Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dog's just weren't built for chocolate

This weeks email comes to me from a housewife in Chicago.  She writes:

Hi Sophie.  I just love your blog.  You capture the essence of the terrier experience for those who don’t have a terrier in their life.  Your blog is refreshingly original and forthright.  Keep up the great work !
On to my question.  Every year, at this time of year, I have the same argument with my Jack Russell Terrier.  I have candy everywhere for Halloween, and he wants some of it.  I take that back – he wants all of it!!  How can I convince him that I’m really on his side and that chocolate just isn’t good for dogs?  Eve, Chicago, Il. 
Thanks for your email & the kind words.  I do my best to represent my breed; I think one dog can make a difference ! 

You are right, dogs just aren't built for chocolate.  Chocolate contains an alkaloid called “theobromine”.  Theobromine is in the same family as caffeine and is a type of stimulant (they both are mythylxanines).  Theobromine stimulates the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and causes a slightly increases blood pressure.
Dogs and certain other animals, such as horses and cats, cannot metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans can; this causes the above effects to be much more severe than is the case with humans.   The specific notable side effects of toxic levels of theobromine in dogs includes: diarrhea; vomiting; increased urination; muscle twitching; excessive panting; hyperactive behavior; whining; dehydration; digestive problems; seizures; and rapid heart rate.  Some of these symptoms, like the rapid heart rate, could ultimately be fatal to the dog.
So how much chocolate is too much for a dog?  That depends on the size and age of the dog, as well as what type of chocolate was consumed.  The larger the dog, the more theobromine they can handle without dying and older dogs tend to have more problems with the side effects, as noted above.  The general rules for the amount of chocolate that will be toxic for a dog:
  • Milk chocolate: one ounce per pound of body weight (so, without intervention, a 16 pound dog (7.2 kg) would likely die from eating one pound of milk chocolate)
  • Dark chocolate: 1/3 of an ounce per pound of body weight (around 5 ounces of dark chocolate for that same 16 pound dog)
  • Baker’s chocolate: 1/9 of an ounce per pound of body weight (around 1.8 ounces of baker’s chocolate for a 16 pound dog)
  • Cocoa powder: 1/16 of an ounce per pound of dog (around 1 ounce of cocoa powder to kill a 16 pound dog)
On the other extreme end, it would take about 200 pounds of white chocolate consumed within a 17 hour period to reach toxic levels of theobromine for a 16 pound dog.  The low quantity of theobromine here is because white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.
How to Treat a Dog That Has Eaten Chocolate
There is little that can be done for the dog, particularly at home, to treat the theobromine poisoning once it’s in the dog’s bloodstream.  Thus, the general methods of treatment tend to be ways to try to stop the consumed theobromine from reaching the bloodstream.  These include:
1.       Inducing vomiting in the dog immediately, which helps remove much of the chocolate.
2.       After that, try to get the dog to eat a small amount of activated charcoal, which binds to the theobromine and keeps it from entering the bloodstream.
3.       Try to get the dog to consume as much water as possible to keep them hydrated.
4.       At the vet, certain drugs can be used to help the dog survive, such as anti-convulsants, which can help if the dog is having seizures.
In order to induce vomiting, the easiest way, aside from sticking your finger down their throat or the like, which isn’t at all recommended, is to get the dog to eat something like 1-2 tsp of hydrogen peroxide, which should shortly induce vomiting and can be repeated a few times every 15 minutes, if it does not.  Alternatively, 2-3 tsp of Syrup of Ipecac should do the trick, though this one should NOT be repeated, even if it doesn’t work the first time.
For the activated charcoal, about 1-2 tsp of activated charcoal mixed thoroughly with water should be fed to the dog.  This also works well for certain other types of toxins that dogs and cats can sometimes consume, such as: carbamate insecticides, herbicides, and rodenticides.
If your Jack Russell has any questions, just ask him to contact me & I'll set him straight !

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