February 9, 2017

Chocolate-Covered Hazard: What to Do If Your Pet Eats a Valentine’s Day Treat

APCC: Chocolate

Love is in the air! It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and many of us will be rushing out to buy something special for our loved ones. Perhaps you’re thinking of picking up some sweets? No one can resist chocolate around this time of year. According to the National Confectioners Association, a full 94% of Americans want to receive chocolate or some sort of candy for Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, humans are not the only ones who like chocolate. In fact, in 2015, chocolate was number seven on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s (APCC) list of top pet toxins for the year. So, the burning question is, what should you do if your dog eats chocolate?

First things first. If you think your dog has ingested chocolate, assess your dog’s condition. Keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drinking excessively
  • Hyperactivity
  • Pacing
  • Shaking

If your furry friend is showing these symptoms, they may be suffering from the effects of chocolate consumption. In this case it is best to take them to your local veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately. Before heading out the door, make sure to grab any remaining packaging from the chocolate treats to help your veterinarian understand what kind of chocolate it was and how much your dog may have ingested.

If your dog is acting normally, but you still believe that he or she enjoyed a bite of Valentine’s Day chocolate, you’ll also want to gather the aforementioned information to determine the ingredients in the chocolate and the amount consumed. Note whether the chocolates had any sorts of fillings, including raisins or macadamia nuts, as they can be toxic.

Next up, call your local veterinarian or APCC for help. Your veterinarian or APCC operator will use the information you gathered to understand and explain to you what concerns they may have for your pet. The concerns may range from mild vomiting and diarrhea to more serious issues like increased heart rate, muscle tremors and seizures. Chocolates can contain a variety of compounds and ingredients that are toxic to dogs. For example, chocolate contains a compound called theobromine that dogs are sensitive to. Theobromine is in the same class of compounds as caffeine, so when dogs ingest chocolate in large quantities, the theobromine may cause hyperactivity or agitation, an increase in heart rate, muscle tremors, and seizures. Generally, the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it will contain, meaning it will take less dark chocolate to pose a problem for your dog.

However, theobromine’s presence in chocolate may not be the only concern for your dog. Xylitol, a sugar substitute, is occasionally used in chocolate as well. Xylitol can cause low blood sugar and possible liver injury.

Also, some dogs may be sensitive to the amount of sugar and fat in chocolate, and ingesting chocolate may lead to inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

Last but not least. Once the veterinarian has determined which concerns may be applicable to your pet, they will guide you on what must be done next for treatment.

If the situation is not serious, they may have you simply monitor your pet at home. If it is more concerning, they may advise that you induce vomit, or if the circumstances seem more severe, your pet may need to stay in a veterinary hospital for monitoring and treatment.

Now you know exactly what to do should your dog ingest chocolate, but you may be asking yourself another question:

What about cats? Cats are sensitive to theobromine just like dogs, so if a cat ingests chocolate it can be dangerous for them as well. Fortunately, APCC does not get any many calls about cats ingesting chocolate. This is likely because they may be more discerning in what they eat and are less likely to consume larger quantities of chocolate. However, if your cat does eat chocolate, it is best to follow the above recommendations as well.

If you believe that your pet has ingested a potentially poisonous item, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 immediately.