Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chocolate Poisons Pets

A chocolate bar can send a person's taste buds to heaven. But for dogs and cats, consuming even a little bit of chocolate could send them to the emergency room.

The trouble with chocolate is that it contains theobromine and caffeine, both methylated xanthine alkaloids. While not harmful in small amounts in humans, these chemical compounds can be deadly in dogs and cats. They stimulate the sympathetic - "fight or flight" - branch of the nervous system, causing release of a chemical called epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline).

In small doses, adrenaline gives humans and animals extra energy to react in potentially harmful or emergency situations. But toxic doses of methylxanthines lead to the over-stimulation of this system.

A pet that ingests a harmful amount of methylxanthines may breathe rapidly and become very restless and overheated; its heart rate and blood pressure may increase drastically, possibly culminating in cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeat). The pet may also vomit, have diarrhea, and drink and urinate more than usual.

Ingesting chocolate could ultimately lead to seizures or even death without appropriate veterinary care.

The concentration of methylxanthines vary by the type of chocolate, ranging from the least in white chocolate up to the most in cocoa powder. Cocoa bean mulch, a commercial product for gardens, is especially harmful to pets.

The more chocolate a pet ingests, the more likely there will be significant symptoms. Also, the less a pet weighs, the more likely exposure will bring severe effects.

When a pet has ingested a toxic dose of chocolate, veterinarian will explore treatment options that include induced vomiting, treatment with activated charcoal to prevent intestines from absorbing the methylxanthines, or treatment with intravenous fluids and medication to prevent seizures.

Dr. Sandra Yi, assistant professor of toxicology, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, Illinois; 217/333-2907

Artwork: Theobromine Molecule

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