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Chocolate Poisoning in Pets

An abundance of chocolate can be great for us, but can be a nightmare for dogs, cats and rabbits. 

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Many of us love the taste of chocolate, and it can be found in households year round. Availability also ramps up at special times of the year, including Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas, as we indulge in treats and exchange gifts. Chocolate poisoning in pets is a common issue, especially around these times. 

An abundance of chocolate can be great for us, but can be a nightmare for dogs, cats and rabbits. Dogs especially are likely to want to try any food lying around, and the sweet taste of chocolate means that if they have the opportunity they may eat chocolate in a large quantity.  Other pets are often fussier and may be less likely to want to eat chocolate, but it can happen and they suffer from the same range of serious effects as dogs do. In fact, cats are actually more susceptible to the effects of chocolate poisoning than dogs!

What makes chocolate so toxic?

Chocolate is delicious to many, but unfortunately contains ingredients that our pets cannot tolerate. These ingredients, theobromine and caffeine, are found in the highest concentrations in dark or bakers chocolate. 

This means that there is not a ‘safe’ amount of chocolate to give your pet. Even white chocolate, which has the lowest theobromine level, has lots of fat and sugar which can cause pancreatitis, as well as contribute to obesity. 

Pet approved ‘chocolate’ treats, which contain carob instead, are available to buy and are a much better way to give your pet some indulgence of their own. 

What if I think my pet has eaten chocolate?

If you do think that your pet has eaten chocolate, it is very important to call your local Vets4Pets. Signs can be slow to appear, so contacting your vet to discuss a course of action is critical. 

They can assess the risk from the chocolate your pet has or may have, consumed and advise if you need to bring your pet in or monitor at home. 

If you are monitoring your pet, the initial signs of theobromine and caffeine toxicity include:

  • Sickness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent urination.

If enough chocolate has been eaten, these can progress to:

  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Seizures
  • Internal bleeding
  • Death

What can my vet do if my pet has eaten chocolate?

Your vet can assess how much chocolate your pet may have eaten, and the risk. Treatment depends on the amount eaten and how long ago it was eaten. 

If your pet goes to the clinic, your vet can provide supportive care to help stabilise your pet and promote excretion of the theobromine. Dogs may be induced to vomit if ingestion was recent enough, or given liquid activated charcoal to reduce absorption from the intestines into the bloodstream. Supportive care often includes putting your pet on a drip and hospitalising them to be monitored under the care of the vet team. In severe cases heart and seizure drugs may be used, but thankfully this level of toxicity is rare. Unfortunately there is no ‘cure’ and your pet can only be managed until the toxins have left the body.

With the abundance of treats and toys available, there are plenty of ways to pamper your pet without giving them chocolate. Accidents do happen though, especially at times of year with large amounts of chocolate in the house, and your local Vets4Pets team are available to provide support, advice and care if it does. 

Think your pet has eaten chocolate? Contact your local Vets4Pets to get advice.