Lots of dogs love chocolate, but it doesn't love them. Signs of a toxic dose include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and cardiac arrhythmias
Who doesn't love chocolate? It's the stuff of celebrations, holidays and romance. It's filled with feel-good chemicals, and there's even evidence that it's good for our health.
Dogs love chocolate as much as we do, based on the number of stories I've heard about canines who crave the sweet stuff. Just about every week, I see or hear from clients whose dogs have gotten into a box of designer chocolates or a bag of Snickers bars or M&Ms. I even remember one Christmas when my brother Bobby's late Yorkie, Buddy, ate an entire 1-pound box of Godiva chocolates.
But while dogs who OD on chocolate might get the same flavor enjoyment from it that we do, it's not so good for their health. Chocolate contains both caffeine and a substance called theobromine. Both are plant alkaloids, mildly stimulating to humans, but toxic to dogs, who aren't able to process theobromine as efficiently as humans.
Now, I hear stories all the time about dogs who suffer no ill effects after eating a whole batch of homemade fudge, a bag of Hershey's kisses, a chocolate muffin or cookies dipped in dark chocolate. That's because chocolate's toxic effects -- known as chocolate toxicosis -- vary depending on the size of the dog, the amount and type of chocolate eaten, and individual sensitivity.
Small dogs, like 6-pound Buddy, are at greater risk than the typical 100-pound Labrador retriever. And dogs who eat chocolate candy adulterated with lots of sugar are usually less at risk than those sophisticated canines who ingest high-quality dark chocolate.
"The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is," says Justine Lee, DVM, who's double board-certified in toxicology and emergency and critical-care medicine. "White and milk chocolate have less theobromine, the poisonous chemical, compared to baking chocolate."
That doesn't mean that milk chocolate is necessarily safe. One ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially lethal dose in dogs.
Usually, when dogs down too much chocolate, they vomit it back up. If they ate a 2-pound bag of M&Ms, you might come home to rainbow-colored vomit on your carpet.
Sometimes the evidence comes out the other end. Barbara Davis of Corona, California, had an English springer spaniel with a chocolate fetish.
"One time she consumed an entire sack of Kraft Fudgies, including the little gold plastic wrappers," Davis says. "At that time I was living in Manhattan, and it raised quite a few eyebrows as people observed my dog pooping gold in the curb on 52nd Street."
If they're going to have a problem, most dogs start to vomit, have diarrhea or become unusually thirsty within six to 12 hours of ingesting chocolate. Restlessness and a distended abdomen are also signs. More severe side effects such as seizures, a racing heart (tachycardia) and high or low blood pressure can also occur.
Death by chocolate isn't just the name of a dessert. Dogs who are highly sensitive to theobromine or who ingest the more toxic dark forms of chocolate, such as cocoa powder or unsweetened baking chocolate, can die from cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthermia or respiratory failure.
Another factor is the possible presence of xylitol, a sugar alcohol, in some chocolate products. It's highly toxic to dogs and may be of more concern than the chocolate itself.
My brother's dog Buddy indeed needed a trip to the veterinary clinic, but I'm happy to report that he survived the incident.
When in doubt, Dr. Lee advises, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) or other pet poison hotline for life-saving advice. They can advise whether or not it's a poisoning concern.
How to help kids
treat pets right
Q: I have a young niece and nephew, and they'll be visiting frequently. What are the best ways to teach them to pet my dog and cat without anybody getting hurt? -- via Facebook
A: That's a great question! Starting while they're young will help them to become loving and careful toward animals throughout their lives.
Begin with the adage "Show, don't tell." Demonstrate how to softly pet a dog or cat. Hold the child's hand as he or she strokes it across the body. Teach the three-finger rule, too: Touch the pet with only three fingers, not the whole hand. Let very young children pet animals only when you're there to help.
Appeal to a young child's sense of empathy. Point out to your niece and nephew that nobody likes to be hit or kicked or have their hair pulled -- and that includes dogs and cats. This helps to emphasize the importance of petting animals quietly and calmly. With very young children, you'll probably need to repeat this discussion frequently and keep an eye on interactions to make sure your dog and cat never feel the need to defend themselves.
Remind kids to use their "inside voice" when they're around pets. They'll be fascinated to learn that dogs and cats can hear better than they can, even from far away.
Kids love to pick up animals and carry them around, but dogs and cats usually don't think it's much fun. Set the rule that pets can be held only when kids are sitting on the floor or on the sofa -- and only for as long as the pet allows it. No hanging onto him if he wants to get down. Teach older children (and some adults) to always support a pet's rear when picking him up. You're doing an important job: creating new animal lovers. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Orlando is No. 1
with pets and owners
-- How much does it cost to keep a pet where you live? Depending on the type of animal, annual costs range from $235 to nearly $2,000. Based on expenses, Orlando, Florida, is the nation's most pet-friendly city, according to personal finance website WalletHub. Experts crunched the numbers using such factors as veterinarians per capita (Orlando ranks first), veterinary care costs, price of pet insurance premiums, number of pet-friendly restaurants, dog parks per capita and walkability. Other high-ranking pet-friendly cities are Birmingham, Alabama; Tampa, Florida; Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky; Scottsdale, Arizona; Reno, Nevada; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Cincinnati, Ohio; Las Vegas; and St. Louis.
-- Slowly but surely, pets are taking over workplaces. According to figures from the Society of Human Resource Management, 7 percent of U.S. employers permit employees to bring pets to work, up from 5 percent five years ago. Managers say the presence of pets helps to promote work-life balance and improve employee morale and productivity. Research by Randolph Barker, a management professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, found that people who brought pets to work had decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
-- Bulldogs are among the breeds with the poorest health, according to a study published last month in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. Because bulldogs have little genetic diversity, a weak immune system and a head shape that makes it difficult for them to breathe, breeders have little wiggle room when it comes to improving their dogs. "Improving health through genetic manipulations presumes that enough diversity still exists to improve the breed from within and, if not, to add diversity by outcrossing to other breeds," says Niels Pedersen, the study's lead author. "The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime." -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.