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Preventing Valentine’s Day Chocolate Emergencies

Chocolate ingestion in dogs happens all year round, but calls to the ASPCA Poison Control Center always increase around holidays.  As we approach Valentine’s Day this weekend, here are the facts about dogs and chocolate.

  • Chocolate contains a naturally occurring compound called theobromine.  Theobromine is toxic to dogs when ingested in sufficient quantities.
  • Besides Valentine’s Day (or other holiday) candy, theobromine is found in chocolate flavored vitamin chews, cocoa, chocolate liquor, chocolate coffee beans, chocolate flavored ice cream and chocolate flavored yogurt.
  • DOSE and TYPE are most important when considering chocolate poisoning.  If you drop a piece of a chocolate sandwich cookie on the floor and your dog eats it, you don’t need to rush him to the emergency center.
  • The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the larger the dose of theobromine.  One ounce of baker’s chocolate is enough to see symptoms in a 50 pound dog.
  • Signs of chocolate toxicosis are vomiting and diarrhea, lethargy, panting, agitation and hyperactivity, increased thirst, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and tremors.
  • Treatment for chocolate ingestion will depend on the dose ingested, how long ago the ingestion occurred, and whether the dog is showing clinical signs.  Clinical signs can be present below the toxic dose.
  • Signs from chocolate ingestion can persist for up to 72 hours.
  • White chocolate contains 0.25 mg/ounce of theobromine and is rarely ingested in sufficient quantities to cause toxicosis.
  • Don’t forget about garden mulch made from cocoa beans!  This mulch is often marketed as “chocolate mulch” and it does smell like chocolate, which may make it attractive to dogs, particularly those with a history of eating non-food items.  If you have a dog, the safest thing to do is to use a different kind of mulch in your garden.
  • Overall, most patients suffering from chocolate toxicosis respond well to supportive care and recover with no lasting effects.
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