Author: Karen L. McGlothlin, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian: Dr. Jelovich
Patient: Mid-Knight Jones
Breed: Labrador Retriever Mix
Current Age: 5 months old
Background: Mid-Knight Jones, a Labrador Retriever Mix puppy, had just seen Dr. Crawford for his last puppy visit on December 8, 2020. He’d gotten a little car sick on the way home after his appointment and Dr. Crawford had treated that as a possible vaccine reaction, but over-all he was doing great at home and had passed his physical exam with flying colors.
On December 9, 2020, Mid-Knight’s owners caught him in the act of eating chocolate, estimating that he had ingested about 5 ounces. They called Lawndale Veterinary Hospital and Dr. Jelovich determined that it would be in Mid-Knight’s best interest to be seen for chocolate ingestion in order to avoid potential chocolate toxicosis.
What Is Chocolate Toxicosis? A toxicosis is a pathological condition caused by the action of a poison or toxin. In the case of chocolate, there are two problematic ingredients: theobromine and caffeine. While chocolate toxicosis can occur in both dogs and cats, it is much more common in dogs due to their more frequent tendency to practice dietary indiscretion and to be more inclined to beg for (and make you feel guilty about not sharing) treats.
Chocolate ingestion can result in symptoms that range from mild gastrointestinal upset to potentially fatal illness depending upon the type and the amount of chocolate consumed. Theobromine and caffeine stimulate the central nervous system and the circulatory system, so typical clinical signs seen with chocolate toxicosis may include anxiety/restlessness, panting, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and potentially death. Symptoms may be observed within an hour of chocolate ingestion.
Different types of chocolate contain differing amounts of theobromine and caffeine, with the rule of thumb being that the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more theobromine and caffeine it will contain. Baker’s chocolate is very concentrated, with 130-450 mg of theobromine per ounce and milk chocolate contains 44-58 mg of theobromine per ounce. White chocolate has very little theobromine and poses more pf a risk of making the dog sick due to the fat and sugar content. Only 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate or 9 ounces of milk chocolate contains enough theobromine and caffeine to potentially cause chocolate toxicosis in a 50 pound dog.
How Did Mid-Knight Do? Mid-Knight was brought in shortly after his owners had called and spoken with Dr. Jelovich and gotten her recommendation to bring him in. Upon his arrival, Dr. Jelovich administered apomorphine by intravenous injection to cause Mid-Knight to vomit. Mid-Knight threw up a large amount of chocolate, some Twizzler and Airhead wrappers, and dog food. After his stomach was emptied, Dr. Jelovich gave an injection to calm his nausea. Mid-Knight was sent home that afternoon and recovered without complication.
Happy Valentine’s Day! With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s not a bad idea to have chocolate toxicosis on your radar. If you suspect that your pet has ingested chocolate, don’t hesitate to give us a call. If you have an estimate of the amount of chocolate your pet has eaten, we can calculate an estimate of the amount of theobromine and caffeine that was ingested and make a recommendation to be seen if your pet is at risk for chocolate toxicosis. It’s also good to remember that there may be other toxic ingredients in the chocolate, including raisins, macadamia nuts, the artificial sweetener, and xylitol that need to be mentioned. We know it’s tempting to share holiday treats with your pets, but this year, why not give them heart-shaped dog biscuits instead of chocolates? They may protest, but they will thank you for it later.
REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED READINGS
Brooks, W. 2020. Chocolate Toxicity In Dogs.
Brutlag, A. Chocolate Poisoning In Dogs.
Gwaltney-Brant, S. 2013. Chocolate.