October is here, and Hallowe’en is round the corner. Having sweets and chocolate at arm’s reach not only poses a slight problem for our waistlines, but a potentially fatal risk for dogs if they get hold of them.
So, most of know not to give our dogs chocolate, but do we know why it is SO dangerous?
Chocolate contains substances called theobromine and caffeine, both of which are stimulants that belong to a class of chemicals called methylxanthines. We know these compounds affect humans, but the fundamental differences in a dog’s metabolism means that they can have a much more significant and harmful impact on them than they do on us.
Dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and unsweetened baking chocolate have the highest concentrations and are the worst culprits for causing fatalities in dogs. Milk chocolate has lower levels of theobromine and caffeine but can still be harmful if ingested in large quantities.
Because these substances are very difficult for the dog to metabolise, they build up to toxic levels, overstimulating the nervous and cardiovascular system which leads to poisoning.
SYMPTOMS OF CHOCOLATE POISONING
- Gastrointestinal upset
In mild cases, ingestion of chocolate can lead to symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Increased heart rate and restlessness
The theobromine and caffeine in chocolate can stimulate the dog’s heart and nervous system, causing an elevated heart rate and restlessness.
- Muscle tremors and seizures
Your dog may fall to the side, draw their head back and paddle their legs. They may urinate, defecate, and salivate.
- Elevated body temperature
Chocolate can cause an increase in core body temperature, leading to hyperthermia and may result in organ failure.
Ingesting chocolate may lead to dehydration. Drinking lots more and needing to toilet more often than usual can be a warning sign.
- Elevated blood pressure
The stimulants in chocolate can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which can lead to blood clots, seizures, residual kidney failure and death.
- Unusual breathing
Dogs may exhibit rapid or laboured breathing. Your dog should be taking around 40 breaths per minute on average, so anything significantly more or less should be treated as a symptom.
- Cardiac Issues
In severe cases, chocolate poisoning can lead to cardiac arrhythmias which can be fatal.
It’s important to note that symptoms of chocolate poisoning may not appear immediately after ingestion. They can take hours to manifest, so if you suspect your dog has consumed chocolate, you must contact your vet immediately. As with all cases of poisoning, timing is critical so don’t delay in seeking medical care.
The prognosis for a dog that has ingested chocolate depends on the amount and type of chocolate consumed, the size, age, breed and overall health of the dog, as well as how quickly they receive medical attention.
In mild cases, where a small amount of a less toxic chocolate is ingested, a dog may experience gastrointestinal upset, but recover with supportive care and monitoring.
In moderate to severe cases, where larger quantities of dark chocolate or baking chocolate are consumed, or in cases where the dog is smaller or more sensitive, the symptoms are more severe and concerning. However, with prompt veterinary treatment, many dogs can recover.
In the worst-case scenarios, particularly when a large amount of highly toxic chocolate is ingested, and treatment is delayed, the prognosis can be poor, and the dog may not survive.
The key is to seek immediate veterinary assistance if you suspect your dog has consumed chocolate. The veterinarian can assess the situation and provide appropriate treatment, which may include inducing vomiting, administering activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, and medications to manage symptoms.
It’s always best to be cautious and keep chocolate and other toxic substances out of your dog’s reach to prevent accidental ingestion in the first place; particularly at this time of the year when large quantities may be readily available and with many dogs’ eating habits being somewhat indiscriminate (YES, Labradors, we’re talking about you.)
It’s not just chocolate we need to be careful with. Many sweets these days use artificial sweeteners such as Xylitol in the place of sugar in sugar-free sweets and gum. It can cause a rapid release of insulin in dogs, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, and even liver failure.
Xylitol is not only found in sweets but has been known to be present in breath mints, baked goods, peanut butter, ice-cream, cough syrup, chewable or gummy vitamins, supplements and over the counter medications, mouthwash and toothpaste.
As with chocolate, if you suspect that your dog has ingested anything containing Xylitol, you must seek rapid veterinary care.
Avoid the temptation to leave out the candy bowl and keep your treats in a sealed container, out of the reach of sniffy noses and licky chops so you don’t end up with a terrifying trip to the vets this Hallowe’en!
Information by Wooflinks – verified by registered Vet Nurse Rachel Bean.