Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A cautionary tale of chocolate toxicity for Halloween

Lilly dressed as a bunch of grapes
With Halloween coming up and the holiday season just around the corner everyone will have more candy around the house than usual and this is an invitation for curious pups to steal a snack.  My dogs Sparkle and Lilly have volunteered to be used as an example for what can happen if your dog eats too much chocolate, they would never dream of doing this in real life…

I brought Sparkle and Lilly into Friendship Hospital for Animals for treatment after they had broken 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 I was 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. Sparkle was the prime suspect as her heart rate was in the 200 beats per minute range, which is much 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.

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

Sparkle vomited slightly more chocolate than Lilly but since 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 any additional medication.  Sparkle 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 she did great and I brought her 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 the more bittersweet the chocolate, the smaller amount it takes to reach a toxic dose.  For example, a small amount of baker’s chocolate is much more concerning than a larger amount of milk chocolate.

A handy phone number to have is the ASPCA’s Animals PoisonControl Center at (888) 426-4435.  For a minimal fee you can speak directly to a veterinary toxicologist to determine if your pet needs medical attention.  Finally if your dog does eat chocolate seek veterinary care 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 and please keep that candy away from nosey paws!

Sparkle and Lilly

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