The ASPCA poison control hot line phones ring off the hook on and around Valentine's Day. Usually another pet- more commonly a dog- has gotten into some chocolates!
"We actually have a chocolate season," explains Dr. Tina Wismer, a veterinary toxicologist for the ASPCA. " It runs from Halloween until Valentine's Day. That's when most of the chocolate related calls are received."
Last year their center received more than 6900 of these calls-98% of them involving dogs. "Dogs don't have an off-switch," she explains. Cats may nibble but dogs don't care and will eat as much as they can. Chocolate contain stimulants similar to caffeine that can affect the pet's nervous and cardiac systems leading to shakes, tremors, irregular fast heart beats and sometimes convulsions and death. A 1 ounce piece of chocolate can be fatal to a small dog or cat. Animals are not able to process the troublesome toxic compounds as they build up in their systems.
Chocolate poisonings can cause digestive tract upset with vomiting and diarrhea. But other disturbances such as listed above involving the heart or central nervous system commonly occur. Fortunately, fatalities are rare: of the 13,400 chocolate related calls received by the ASPCA only 12 resulted in death. All those that died were dogs.
The risk associated with eating chocolate depends on the size of the animal and the type of chocolate ingested. The darker the chocolate the more toxic. So the type makes a difference: a healthy 40 pound dog would have to eat 1 pound of milk chocolate or 0.4 pounds of dark chocolate or 0.2 pounds of Baker's chocolate or 0.1 pound of powdered cocoa to create a potentially life -threatening problem.
Probably not a concern if your dog sneaks a chocolate chip cookie or a Hershey's Kiss, but your should always call your veterinarian for advice. Some animals are taking medications that can amplify the effects of even small amounts of chocolate and their can be a compounding problem with "sugar-free" varieties that contain Xylitol which is toxic for dogs, affecting their blood sugar levels causing them to plummet to dangerously low levels and can lead to convulsions,seizures and potentially death.
When we got a call from one of our pets parents at Animal Health Care on a Friday night, the doctors and team were ready. We were able to estimate that, by the amount she had ingested of the opened box of chocolate candies, from the box the owner provided, we were able to specifically calculate with a tool provided from the ASPCA Poison Control Center that she had a moderate to severe risk for chocolate poisoning and toxic effect risk. We immediately gave her an injection of intravenous medication causing her to vomit. We succeeded in evacuating the stomach contents finding not only undigested chocolates but wrappers and some other items that we had not expected!!! Her owner said she had left the box of chocolates on the counter, well away from her dog's reach she thought. So much for counter surfing!
If you suspect that your pet has eaten chocolate or any other potentially dangerous food or non food item, contact your pet's vet immediately or go to the nearest veterinary emergency center. Be sure to bring the package or what's left of it with you. And always keep your veterinarian's number close at hand and in your phone. If you have any concerns, don't hesitate to make that call. Better to be safe than sorry. You can also call the ASPCA Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435: a veterinary team member will take your information and may advise you to perform some preliminary home remedies but more likely will direct you to your nearest veterinary facility such as Animal Health Care of Marlboro at 732-972-3201 where the team can help your pet in a potential poisoning ingestion. We have used the ASPCA Poison Control Center often especially if we have had a pet eat human medication of which we are unfamiliar. There is a charge for their services but for the life saving benefit there is no price for the precious pet in our lives.
So keep your pets away from the chocolate. Have a safe Valentine's Day and make your pet feel great as your sweetheart date!