Thursday, October 29, 2009

A cautionary tale of chocolate toxicity for Halloween

With Halloween this weekend and the holiday season just around the corner everyone will have more candy around the house than usual which is an invitation for curious pups to steal a snack. Dr. Dana Begnoche’s dogs Lola and Widget have volunteered to be used as an example for what can happen if your dog eats too many chocolates.

Lola and Widget came in after breaking into the Halloween candy stash one afternoon. Milk chocolate, which consists mostly of cream and sugar, is generally not a huge concern unless massive amounts are consumed but dark chocolate is another story. Among other treats there was a bag of dark chocolate M&M’s missing and we were not sure how much each dog consumed.

An injectable medication was used to induce vomiting in both dogs so we could empty their system of as much chocolate as possible. Lola was the prime suspect as her heart rate was in the 200 beats per minute range which is too fast and she was very agitated. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both classified as methylxanthines. Unfortunately, dogs are sensitive to the effects of methylxanthines which can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, seizures and potentially death when ingested at a toxic dose.

Widget vomited a moderate amount of chocolate but was not showing any clinical signs of chocolate toxicity. He was given activated charcoal by mouth, fluids under the skin and an injection of Pepcid to help settle his stomach. The fluids would help flush out his bladder which is important since the methylxanthines are excreted through the urine and can actually be reabsorbed if allowed to collect in the bladder. Widget was sent home with instructions to take out frequently to urinate and monitor for any vomiting or diarrhea.

Lola vomited slightly more chocolate than Widget but she was showing clinical signs of chocolate toxicity which required more aggressive treatment. We started her on IV fluids and gave her a medication to help slow down her heart rate. Overnight we checked her heart rate every hour in case it crept back up again and she needed an additional dose. Lola was also given oral activated charcoal to bind any of the chocolate that wasn’t expelled when she vomited. Other than being anxious and whining all night Lola did great and was sent home the next morning.

There are a few take home messages in this tale. First keep the candy far away from nosey dogs, even if you don’t think they are interested in eating it. Second, know what kind of chocolate your dog has been exposed to. The higher the cocoa content or more bittersweet, the smaller amount it takes to reach a toxic dose. Finally if your dog does eat chocolate bring them in to see us immediately so we can induce vomiting to remove as much as possible from their system. Most of the time they do not need to stay in the hospital and can go home with you immediately.

Happy Halloween from Friendship! We hope you won’t have a chocolate toxicity story of your own this holiday season but if you do we will be here to help your dog vomit.

As a side note Lilly will be dressed as a bumble bee and Sparkle as a pig on Saturday. Poppy is refusing to keep on the costume I got for her, so instead she will be going as a very bad dog.

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