By Mary Nee
Take a stroll through any grocery or convenience store during the month of February, and you will see a common sight – a barrage of heart-shaped chocolate.
While these tasty treats are a great impulse buy for your Valentine’s Day sweetheart, having chocolate in your home can be dangerous – even life-threatening – for our canine loved ones.
We love chocolate, but so do our dogs, and with their enhanced sense of smell, they can lock onto the human indulgence even if it’s hidden away. From cakes and cookies to bowls of Hershey’s Kisses sitting on the coffee table, chocolate is everywhere – and typically something we are not overly aware of until we see our furry friends munching away.
What makes chocolate harmful for dogs to ingest? The chemical ingredients found in chocolate – theobromine and caffeine – cannot be metabolized as well by our dogs. Even trace amounts can cause vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, panting, restlessness, excessive urination, and elevated heart rate. Larger amounts can trigger muscle tremors, seizures, heart failure, even sudden death. Due to the high fat content in chocolate, there’s also a risk of your dog developing pancreatitis.
These chemicals are also harmful for cats; however felines are not drawn to chocolate like dogs are, so the risk of chocolate poisoning for cats is much lower.
The levels of toxicity levels depend on the size and weight of your dog, as well as the type of chocolate. The darker and less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it is for dogs.
Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning may take hours (typically 6-12) to present themselves, so if you see or even suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate, it is imperative to immediately contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control helpline at 888-426-4435.
To treat chocolate poisoning, a veterinarian induces vomiting and administers activated charcoal to block the absorption of the harmful chemicals into the body. Additionally, intravenous fluids and beta blockers to slow the heart rate may be necessary for severe cases.
Bottom line: Keep any food items containing chocolate out of the reach of your pet. If you suspect that your dog may have ingested chocolate, take immediate action and call your vet. The longer you wait, the more the chemicals are absorbed into the body, leading to greater toxicity.
As dog owners, our responsibility is to keep them from harm so they remain safe, happy, and healthy.
Mary Nee, a Dorchester resident, is the president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. Pet questions? Email ARL at email@example.com.