My favorite dog-in-trouble story involves one of the smartest black labs I’ve ever met and a double chocolate birthday cake that sat on the very back of the counter, supposedly out of her reach. Standing on her hind legs and reaching that tongue out as far as any sweets-loving dog could, she had licked it into a perfect crescent shape by the time her “Mom” had gotten home. I laughed wildly at the pictures—really, it was impressive—and still snicker when I think of it, but the reality is that dogs and chocolate don’t mix. In fact, it can actually kill them.
Chocolate contains a chemical call theobromine that is toxic to dogs in sufficient quantities. This is a xanthine compound in the same family of caffeine that affects the nervous system, cardiovascular system and peripheral nerves. Symptoms that Fido has discovered the candy dish can include hyper excitability or irritability, increased heart rate and urination, restlessness, muscle tremors and seizures, vomiting and diarrhea.
The toxicity levels vary, depending on the type of chocolate and your dog’s weight. For example, a rough estimate for toxicity levels is:
Milk Chocolate: 1 ounce per 1 pound of body weight
Semisweet Chocolate: 1 ounce per 3 pounds of body weight
Baker’s Chocolate: 1 ounce per 9 pounds of body weight
Proper chocolate storage is the key to avoiding chocolate toxicity, but like Molly the black lab, dogs have been known to be quite wily when it comes to obtaining treats. Knowing this, preparedness is the next best thing. Of course your very first move should your dog discover that pretty heart-shaped box of chocolates from your Valentine should be contacting your veterinarian. Alternatively, you can call the National Animal Poison Control Center at: 1-900-680-0000.
Second, because vets recommend inducing vomiting for the first 1-2 hours if the amount ingested is unknown, be sure to stock up on hydrogen peroxide or Syrup of Ipecac which, once the vomiting has occurred, can be followed by an activated charcoal substance (ask your vet for a bottle to keep on hand for emergencies), which binds itself to poison and prevents the processing and absorption into the blood stream of your pet. These essentials are actually good for more than just chocolate too; it will be effective with several varieties of plant and chemical toxins your canine might get in to.
So let your fur friend enjoy Valentine’s Day with a treat made especially for him and keep those tasty people chocolates all for yourself. And take this day to make sure all chocolate in your house is FAR out of his or her reach. It will save a life!