If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ingested [insert toxin], this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital ahead of your arrival.
Between holiday baking and delicious chocolate-filled gifts – it’s not hard to figure out why our ER sees an increase in pets with chocolate poisoning during the winter months.
For Jackson, an 8-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, this wasn’t just a little taste of chocolate. No, Jackson took it upon himself to consume most – if not ALL – of an 8 oz. container of unsweetened cocoa powder – one of the most dangerous forms of chocolate toxicity in pets!
Understanding Chocolate Toxicity
Cocoa powder is typically used for baking and contains extremely high amounts of methylxanthines (theobromine and caffeine), the components of chocolate that are toxic to dogs. Different types of chocolate have different amounts of methylxanthines – the darker the chocolate, the more harmful it is! That makes baker’s chocolate, cocoa powder, and dark chocolate the most dangerous types of chocolate due to their high levels of methylxanthines.
But chocolate toxicity doesn’t just depend on the type of chocolate – it also depends on the amount of chocolate eaten and your dog’s weight! View this chocolate meter from Pet MD to learn more!
Signs of Chocolate Toxicity
Symptoms of chocolate toxicity can vary depending on the amount of methylxanthines consumed:
- Low amount
- Gastrointestinal upset (Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort)
- Mid-range amount
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Cardiac signs (High heart rate, high blood pressure, and cardiac arrhythmias)
- High amount
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Cardiac signs
- Neurologic signs (Seizures, tremors, coma, & sudden death)
Signs can appear quickly within 30-60 minutes of a pet eating the chocolate and can last for up to 24 hours.
In unsweetened cocoa powder, like what Jackson ate – there are about 2634 mg of theobromine per 100 grams (approximately 3.5 oz). And Jackson got into EIGHT ounces! This is an extremely high amount of methylxanthines.
When Jackson arrived at our ER, he had a high heart rate at about 150 beats per minute. A dog’s heart rate is normally only 60-120 beats per minute! Our team knew they had to act fast since Jackson was already experiencing the effects of the toxicity.
With Jackson at risk for developing gastrointestinal signs, further cardiac signs, and neurologic signs – we had no time to waste!
When a pet who ingested chocolate comes to our ER, treatment may include:
- We will induce vomiting to remove the toxic substance, as well as give the pet activated charcoal to bind any toxic substance left in the stomach and small intestines
- Depending on the amount of chocolate consumed, multiple doses of activated charcoal may be recommended.
- Note: Activated charcoal does not work against all toxicities. Also, it can affect the electrolytes in the body and cause side effects, especially if more than one dose is given, so hospitalization is recommended.
- Symptomatic Treatment
- Symptomatic treatment means treating individual symptoms to help the pet feel better
- This often includes:
- Intravenous fluid therapy to treat dehydration
- Anti-nausea medications to treat nausea
- Medications to treat high heart rate
- Medications to stop seizures and tremors if they occur
After vitals were taken, Jackson was given a medication to induce vomiting. This removed some of the cocoa powder. But Jackson still had a high heart rate so we had to hospitalize him and give him activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, and symptomatic care. Despite initial supportive care, Jackson’s heart rate wasn’t slowing down. In fact, it had increased to 220 beats per minute!
With cardiac medications, we were finally able to get Jackson’s heart rate down to 120 beats per minute. He did very well overnight and had no further symptoms. The next morning, he was able to go home, where he continues to do well! His humans report he’s happy to be home with his best friend, Pickles – a 9-month-old Pitbull – and Jackson can’t wait for summer to arrive so he can get back to swimming!
Typically, the prognosis for chocolate toxicity, even in high amounts, is good with appropriate treatment. If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ate any form of chocolate, call ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, our Oakdale ER & St. Paul ER are both open 24/7, every day.
Our “Fur-tunately: Stories of Animal Survival” series features real pets treated by our team at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. All images and information have been shared with the owner’s permission.
Case Content provided by Latasha Sikes, DVM.
- Why is Chocolate Toxic to My Dog?
- Understanding Caffeine Toxicity in Pets
- Valentine’s Day Do’s and Don’ts for Pet Parents
- 10 Most Common Human Foods That Are Toxic to Pets