Chocolate poisoning and the Easter bunny

Chocolate poisoning in dogs

Easter is fast approaching, and everyone's looking forward to the holiday break.  For dog owners especially it can be a brilliant time for some long walks in the (hopefully!) nice spring weather, and in most homes (especially those with children) there is of course an abundant supply of chocolate to be found.  Unfortunately as vets, we see a lot of cases of chocolate poisoning in our canine friends at this time of year.  Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine which is poisonous to dogs.  This is found in all types of chocolate but the greatest quantity is found in dark chocolate.

What are the clinical signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs?

Common signs:

  • Vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Excessive salivation
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Excitability or ataxia ('wobbliness')
  • Changes in heart rate

 

Uncommon signs:

  • Muscle rigidity, tremors and convulsions
  • Rapid breathing
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Fever

 

Clinical signs are usually seen within 4 hours of consuming chocolate, but can occur up to 24 hours later.  For this reason if your dog has eaten a toxic dose of chocolate (see below) you should contact the vet straight away.

How is chocolate poisoning treated?

Patients are injected with an emetic to make them vomit and following on from this activated charcoal is administered orally.  This stops any further chocolate being absorbed into the dog's circulation.  Depending on how severely the patient is affected, other supportive care may be given (such as intravenous fluids or treatments to control seizuring).  Unfortunately, there is no direct antidote to theobromine.   

How much chocolate is too much?

This depends on the type of chocolate so it is very helpful to keep hold of the wrapper to show to the vet.  As a guide, an average sized dog weighing 20Kg may show signs of chocolate toxicity if he or she eats 180g of milk chocolate or 25g of dark chocolate.  If this is the case, please phone Maple vets straight away because the sooner your dog is treated the less likely he or she is to develop the potentially serious clinical signs seen above.  The good news is that when dogs are seen and treated promptly, the prognosis for a full recovery is good.