Don't Share Valentine's Day Chocolate with Your Dog
If you're like many pet owners, you probably like to share a little of your food with your dog--but if you're considering giving him some of your Valentine's Day chocolates, think again. Sharing Godiva chocolates with your four-legged friend on Valentine's Day could find you both spending the night at an emergency veterinary clinic.
That's because "if ingested in significant amounts, chocolate can potentially induce even death in severe cases," warns Steven Hansen, DVM, a veterinary toxicologist who is senior vice president of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois. Smaller amounts of chocolate can cause your dog to develop vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors and seizures.
How does such a delicious treat cause so much damage? The culprit is a group of fat and caffeine-like substances called methylxanthines. These substances alter the normal functioning of the dog's central nervous system, peripheral nerves and cardiovascular system. In addition, the fat content in chocolate can trigger the onset of another condition, pancreatitis, which can be quite painful and also may be fatal in severe cases.
Although chocolate in any form is potentially toxic to any dog, some forms of chocolate are worse than others. "Typically, the higher methylxanthine content in the chocolate, the higher the potential for problems," says Hansen. "White chocolate has the lowest methylxanthine content, while baking chocolate contains the highest."
Not surprisingly, smaller dogs are much more vulnerable to chocolate poisoning than larger dogs are. "As little as 20 ounces of milk chocolate or only two ounces of baking chocolate can cause serious problems in a 10-pound dog," Hansen says. If you find that your box or package of candy has been opened--and if none of the humans in your household are guilty--it's reasonable to assume that your dog is the culprit. That assumption gains greater traction if he becomes hyperactive or develops any other symptoms.
A dog who's ingested chocolate needs immediate veterinary attention. "If a pet parent suspects that their dog may have consumed chocolate, their best course of action would be to contact their local veterinarian," says Hansen. After-hours cases should be taken to your nearest emergency veterinary clinic. Either way, be prepared to tell the veterinary team how much chocolate you think your dog has ingested.
Another option is to contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, which staffs a hotline that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The telephone number is 888-426-4435. If you call, though, have your credit card ready: a $65 consultation fee applies.
But the best way to deal with dogs and chocolate is to prevent the two from coming together in the first place. If you really want to show your dog some love on Valentine's Day (or any other day), don't share your chocolates with him--and keep them far enough out of his reach that he can't score any on his own.