Easter Chocolate Poisoning

April 19, 2011

“The wedding is tomorrow,” screeched my frantic client, rushing in with her fresh-from- the- groomer, white standard poodle, Layla. Layla was to take part in the daughter’s wedding the following day, but it seemed that Layla had just consumed four or five cups of baking chocolate that had been intended for the groom’s cake.

Fortunately, Layla had vomited several times since she ate all this chocolate; so much of the potential poison was out. My job now was to prevent any absorption of the chocolate left in her system and to calm her from the hyperactivity caused by the stimulant in chocolate.
To accomplish this, I needed to give Layla activated charcoal.  Activated charcoal is a thick, black, goopy liquid that is given orally to coat the intestinal tract.

So, here I was, looking at the fluffiest, whitest, most beautiful 55 pound poodle, who had to look her best for a wedding tomorrow, and I had to give her half a liter of black, yucky- tasting glop. She was sure to resist and sling the stuff all over us and her beautiful coat.

I gave her some valium, my assistant wrapped her up in towels like Little Red Riding Hood, and we began to administer the activated charcoal.  She did manage to sling quite a bit around, but only a few black smudges made it on to her coat.  A quick trip to the groomer cleaned this up, and, with the help of a few more doses of valium, Layla pulled off her duties at the wedding without a hitch.

All ended well with this case of chocolate overdose, but with all that Easter candy around, some pets might not be so lucky.

Chocolate contains stimulants that are harmful to dogs.  The less sweet the chocolate, the more dangerous it is.  For example, a medium sized dog of 35 pounds would have to eat 5 ounces of milk chocolate before you would start to see mild signs of hyperactivity, nausea and tremors.  It would take closer to 10 ounces of milk chocolate to cause severe signs such as seizures and even death.  However, only 2 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate is enough to cause signs in a medium sized dog.  Baking chocolate is the most dangerous and only ¾ oz of this could lead to problems.

The stimulant isn’t the only problem with chocolate.  The sugar and other fats in the candy can lead to severe stomach upset and even pancreatitis.  Pancreatitis is deadly, so keep your pets away from that Easter candy.

But, if they do get in to it:

1.     Induce vomiting by giving hydrogen peroxide.  I usually have owners give 1 tablespoon every 10 minutes until the pet throws up.

2.     Notify your vet to get further instructions.  If the amount of chocolate consumed is close to the amounts listed above, then hospitalization may be required for treatment similar to Layla’s.  Multiple doses of activated charcoal as well as IV fluids are often needed

3.     To prevent pancreatitis, withhold food and water for 12 hours after the last vomiting episode.  Water can be offered in small amounts for the next 12 hours.  After that, a bland diet should be used for two to three days.

Obviously, the best treatment is prevention.  Educate your children about the dangers of feeding chocolate to the family pets and keep Easter candy out of reach.  This way, you can enjoy the holiday without a frantic trip to the vet.

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