February, 2011 – Hey! Who Ate All My Candy???


Creature Feature Stephanie Karpf


Hey!  Who Ate All My Candy???


By Stephanie Karpf, DVM



    Aaaahhhh, Valentine’s Day.   What do we think of when we ponder this wonderful holiday about love?  That’s right…CHOCOLATE!!!  Lots and lots of chocolate!

  Invariably, at this time of year, I am bound to get a number of calls from distressed dog owners whose furry friends have gotten their little (or very big) snouts into a heart-shaped box full of chocolate treats.  It is certainly true that chocolate is toxic to dogs.  However, there are many different varieties of chocolate, and some are much more toxic than others.


  The most common type of chocolate treat is milk chocolate, of course.  Luckily, milk chocolate is also the variety that is the least toxic.  The level of toxicity of any variety of chocolate, has to do with how much of a chemical, called methylxanthine, is present.  In milk chocolate, the amount of this chemical is much smaller (64 mg/oz.), than the amount in semisweet chocolate, which would have more than twice this amount per oz.  Baker’s chocolate, contains about six times the amount of this chemical per ounce. 


  A 22 lb. dog would need to eat between 10 and 20 oz. of milk chocolate to be poisoned from it.  This is quite a feat for such a small dog.  About half this quantity in dark chocolate, would be a problem.  It is also important to remember, that many of the chocolates that we find in these gift boxes, are filled with a different substance like cream or nougat.  So, the weight of the treat isn’t necessarily all made up of the actual chocolate. In most cases, dogs do not eat enough chocolate to cause themselves a truly dangerous problem.


  That being said, a dog that ingests any chocolate, will likely end up with gastrointestinal upset.  This could include symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and inappetence.  If this should happen, your vet will treat this like any other case of tummy troubles with a bland diet, and sometimes with medications to help clear up nausea or diarrhea.


But, if your dog should be the one to gluttonously devour your romantic box of chocolate delicacies in quantities large enough to cause toxicity, then you could find yourself with a true medical emergency.  The first signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting and diarrhea, and this usually begins within the first 2 to 4 hours after ingestion.  Other signs are fever, restlessness, hyperactivity, and increased urination.  Advanced signs include muscle stiffness, excitement and seizures.  Eventually, untreated chocolate toxicosis can lead to cardiac failure, weakness, coma and death.


If your dog decides to sample your sweets, then it is always best to err on the side of caution.  Be sure to call your veterinarian immediately after discovering that your dog has eaten some chocolate, to find out if the amount ingested is something that should be cause for concern.  It is important that you know how much your dog weighs, what type of chocolate was ingested, and approximately how much this chocolate weighed.  When caught early enough, induction of vomiting to remove chocolate from the stomach, followed by administration of activated charcoal into the gastrointestinal system to remove as much chocolate as possible, can be life saving.  Delaying treatment even by a few hours can have severe consequences.


So, enjoy Valentine’s day.  But keep that gigantic box of sweets from your sweetie, out of Fido’s reach!


Stephanie Karpf, DVM, is co-owner of The Visiting Vet, a house call veterinary service for dogs and cats serving Palm Beach County.  For an appointment, call (561) 252-8874.