With changing aspens and cooler temperatures come the beginning of the holiday season. First up is the spookiest time of the year—Halloween.
Most people know that chocolate can be harmful to pets and make sure to tell their children not to sneak any Halloween treats to Fido, but did you know that some kinds of chocolate are more dangerous than others?
The toxic components in chocolate that cause issues for pets are called methylxanthines. Caffeine is the most well-known of the methylxanthines and is found in chocolate, along with another methylxanthine called theobromine. These two compounds cause the clinical signs of chocolate toxicosis. When ingested, they activate receptors in the nervous system causing stimulatory effects (think of how you perk up after a cup of coffee). The toxic effects seen in pets are a result of overstimulation in the nervous system, and their severity depends on the dose of methylxanthines ingested.
From less severe to more severe, effects include increased water intake, hypersalivation, diarrhea, vomiting, increased body temperature, hyperactivity, tremors, cardiac arrhythmias, and seizures. Since these effects depend on dose, it is important to know which kinds of chocolate contain higher concentrations of methylxanthines. Typically, the “darker” the chocolate, the higher the methylxanthine concentration. Ranked from low to high concentration are white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, unsweetened baking chocolate, and finally unsweetened cocoa powder.
Also toxic to pets, but less well known, is the artificial sweeter Xylitol. Recently, some manufacturers have started labeling Xylitol as “birch sugar” to make the ingredient sound more natural. Common in sugar-free gum and other sugar-free candy, xylitol causes dogs to release a large amount of insulin which can dangerously lower blood sugar levels and can also cause liver damage. Signs of low blood sugar include vomiting, lethargy, disorientation, difficulty walking, and seizures.
If you suspect your pet has ingested a potentially toxic substance (food or otherwise) you can call ASPCA Pet Poison Control at (888) 426-4435. They are available 23/7/365 and have experts ready to discuss any concerns. If you seek veterinary attention for the issue, the poison control experts will discuss the case with your veterinarian to assure that your pet receives the highest level of care possible. Treatment for toxin ingestion ranges from inducing emesis (vomiting) to hospitalization and IV fluid therapy to gastric lavage (stomach pumping) performed under anesthesia. Keeping tempting food out of your pet’s reach is always the best strategy. We hope you have a great start to the holiday season, and if your pets get into any of your human treats, we are here to help!
Evergreen Animal Hospital is open 7 days a week with urgent care walk-in’s, same-day appointments, owner-accessible exam rooms, plus an open lobby with coffee and fireplace. Call us at 303-674-4331 to schedule an appointment at our office in Evergreen, CO.