Friday, February 14, 2014

Pet Poison: Chocolate and Theobromine

In order to prevent accidental poisonings, Jenn's Pet Care will be bringing awareness to a different toxin every week. This week's Pet Poison is fitting for Valentine's Day:


Most pet parents, and many of the general public know that Chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats. It's tricky to determine how much is a harmful dose since each animal can respond to it differently. I've heard stories where a few stolen chocolates off the table induced seizures, and I've also heard stories of a pound box of chocolates being consumed and no negative effects were observed. Either way, it's better to be safe than sorry with your pet, so make sure you keep those Valentines Day treats away from Fido and Fluffy!

Chocolate contains two compounds that are toxic to dogs and cats, Theobromine, and Caffeine. These two compounds are in the same class called Methylxanthines, and act as a stimulant for both the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system.

Symptoms of mild to moderate chocolate poisoning are:

GI Upset
Hyper Tension

Symptoms of severe chocolate poisoning are:

Tremors in muscles
Abnormal heart rhythms
Elevated heart rate

It is extremely important to realize that not all poisonings are from candy.
A more recent epidemic of pet poisonings has been caused by the new trend of using Cocoa Mulch. This mulch in made from the shell of the cocoa bean. It is leftover from the bean roasting process, and therefore has been marketed as a more environmentally friendly mulch. It has even been marketed as a deterrent to cats. Plus it smells like chocolate. Win-win right? Unfortunately, while some cats and dogs are repelled by the cocoa smell, many more are attracted to it. Cocoa mulch has one of the highest concentrations of Theobromine of any source, and pets usually find it in large quantities. When a pet grabs a chocolate bar off the table, it can only consume as much as that one candy bar. However, pets will find an entire garden full of mulch, and often continue to ingest it until they are caught, or dead. There are countless stories of a gardener or pet-owner bringing a bag of mulch home from the local hardware store, and finding the lifelong family pet dead in the garden after only a few hours of exposure. There are no warning labels on cocoa mulch, and neighbors, family members, landscapers etc., may not take the time to research pet-friendly mulch. In fact it is usually the farthest from any one's mind when purchasing mulch, so if your pet visits any other households, make sure they will not be exposed to cocoa mulch while they are there.

Not all types of chocolate have the same concentrations of Theobromine.
From The Merck Veterinary Manual, here are approximate Theobromine levels of different types of chocolate:
  • Dry cocoa powder = 800 mg/oz
  • Unsweetened (Baker's) chocolate = 450 mg/oz
  • Cocoa bean mulch = 255 mg/oz
  • semisweet chocolate and sweet dark chocolate is = 150-160 mg/oz
  • Milk chocolate = 44-64 mg Theobromine per oz chocolate
  • White chocolate contains an insignificant source of methylxanthines.
Note: there is some disagreement about whether  cocoa mulch or baker's chocolate has higher levels of Theobromide.

It would be nice if you never had to worry about these things, however what would you do if you found your pet had consumed a chocolate product? Well, if it was any of the top three sources on the above list, call the vet, and take your dog to an emergency pet hospital immediately! If not, then there is a handy tool on that can help you determine what level of care your dog needs.

In addition, you can contact the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680. There is a $39 charge for each incident, however if it could possibly save your pet's life, it is probably worth it. They also have more information on chocolate as a poison.