Giving chocolate to your loved ones on Valentine’s Day is a tradition that got its start in 1861, when the first heart shaped boxes were made by Cadbury. Since then, chocolate continues to be a popular choice for Valentine’s Day gifts.
Although a tasty treat for people, chocolate is a dangerous choice for our furry family members. More often than not it’s our dogs that get into things they aren’t supposed to, but cats can be guilty parties as well.
For animals, the signs of chocolate toxicity are dose dependent and will vary by the type of chocolate our pet consumes. (More on that later!)
Here are 14 reasons to keep the chocolate out of their reach this Valentine’s day (and the other 364 days in the year).
Gastrointestinal Signs (AKA the guts)
1. Vomiting and/or diarrhea. This is just the beginning. The effects of chocolate toxicity are dose dependent, and the lowest level of toxicity already gives us the unpleasant job of cleaning up after these often malodorous GI side effects.
2. Pancreatitis. This one can be a doozy. Some animals can develop a very minor pancreatitis that requires some basic at home nursing care with a bland diet and some medications. It can also progress to a life-threatening condition that requires hospitalization and dedicated nursing care provided by a team of Veterinarians and Veterinary Technicians and Assistants. The richer the chocolate and the more fat it has, the more potential there is for pancreatitis to occur.
For more information about pancreatitis check out our blog post all about pancreatitis here.
Cardiologic Signs (AKA the heart)
3. High heart rate. As we progress into more severe effects of chocolate toxicity, we start to see an impact on other organs. We can see an elevation in our pet’s heart rate. This can become very dangerous if left untreated for too long.
This sign can be hard to determine at home if you haven’t had to get a heart rate before. If possible, hold your palm against your dog’s chest – just behind their elbow. You should be able to feel their heart beat. If not, place your fingers on the inside of their upper thigh and search for a pulse. If you count more than 140 beats in a minute, call your veterinarian. Larger dogs tend to have naturally lower heart rates, and smaller dogs usually have a faster heart rate. Your veterinarian can instruct you on the normal rate for your pet. Check out Ashley's article on vital signs here for more info.
4. Increased blood pressure. This is not one of the signs you will be able to see at home. Hypertension (increased blood pressure) can affect multiple organs throughout the body including the eyes, the kidneys, the heart, and the nervous system.
Neurologic Signs (AKA the brain and nervous system)
5, 6, and 7. Hyperactivity, restlessness, agitation. These can be hard to spot, especially if the dog in question is a highly energetic 6 month-old Labrador, or a naturally active breed like a Viszla or Boxer, or a member of the ever goofy and trouble making terrier group. If you aren’t sure if their behavior is a normal level of hyper for them, or if they are having signs of chocolate toxicity, call your veterinarian to see what they recommend.
8. Tremors. Tremors are defined as an “involuntary quivering movement”. It may be isolated to one muscle, or it may be throughout the body. Synonyms include shiver and spasm. Tremors can progress into the next neurologic sign – seizures.
9. Seizures. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between tremors and seizures. Seizures can begin to manifest as little twitches in one area of the body, and then progress to affect the whole body. Seizures can be described as convulsions, and can include urination, defecation, hypersalivation (drooling), and potentially a loss of consciousness. Typically these pets are not responding to you during this episode.
10. Hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is when your pet’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels. In chocolate toxicity this will generally happen as a result of signs 5-9. Prolonged hyperthermia leads to some very dangerous conditions when left untreated. Animals already have a body temperature that is naturally higher than ours, ranging from 100°-102.5°F.
11. Increased respiratory rate (tachypnea). This sign will often manifest as a sequela to the aforementioned signs. Signs 5-10 can all have an increased respiratory rate as an additional symptom.
To learn more about obtaining these vital signs read Ashley's blog article here.
The Chemicals that Cause Chocolate Toxicity
This website is NOT a substitute for veterinary care with a veterinarian. We recommend you follow the advice and treatment plan as prescribed by your veterinarian, and only after discussing anything found on this website with your veterinarian, with their approval, implementing advice found here.
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