Dog News

Happy Valentine’s Day!

by Shawn Finch, DVM

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

May your home be full to the top with flowers and chocolate…unless you have pets, and then may your home be full of unconditional love and awesomeness, which are way better than flowers and chocolate any day!

Dalmatian Valentine

Cat Tangent – The only plant I worry about at Valentine’s Day is lilies in Valentine’s Day bouquets.  If they are ingested by dogs, they can cause gastrointestinal distress (vomiting and diarrhea).  If lilies are ingested by cats, they can cause kidney failure, which can be fatal.  You can have lilies or cats, but not both!  Say “thank you” for the flowers, and throw them out (in a kind, sensitive way of course!)

And now, back to dogs (and cats)…

Chocolate Toxicity

The other thing I worry about at Valentine’s Day is chocolate toxicity.  The dangerous component of chocolate is called theobromine. It has an adverse effect on first the gastrointestinal system and at higher levels the neurological system of dogs and cats.  It is present in the highest concentration in baking chocolate, and in descending order in cocoa, dark chocolate and milk chocolate.  It is present in very low levels in white chocolate and not present at all in carob.  Carob is a safe chocolate substitute when baking for dogs.  Probably because dogs tend to like the taste of chocolate (even baking chocolate) more than cats do, chocolate toxicity is much more common in dogs than it is in cats.

The severity of the danger of chocolate depends on four main factors:

  1. The type of chocolate ingested
  2. The amount of chocolate ingested
  3. The weight of the pet
  4. The ovarall health of the pet

Excellent charts and calculations can be found that estimate the toxic levels of different kinds of chocolate for different sizes of dogs. Feel free to check them out to get a feel for how much chocolate it would take to be dangerous to the size of dog you have.  However, if your pet actually does eat chocolate, please rely on your pet’s personal veterinary team to determine if  he or she needs to be treated!

Your pet’s veterinarian can help you assess the danger and let you know within minutes if your pet needs to be seen.  Not only will they take into consideration the type and amount of chocolate, they also probably have a fairly recent current weight on your pet and their medical history.  We are used to converting pounds to kilograms and milligrams per kilograms and assessing toxicity likelihood.  This is a situation more safely dealt with by a quick call to your veterinary team and if needed, a veterinary visit, rather than an educated guess or a “wait and see” approach.

Even if your pet has ingested a level below a dangerous toxic level, your veterinary team may have you bring your pet in just to be safe, and to assess their physical condition, especially if your pet is very young or old or has health issues that would make them more vulnerable to illness.

My parents’ four pound Ernie Dog ate a toxic dose of milk chocolate several years ago and was successfully treated with emetics (medication to make him vomit) and supportive care.  My brother and sister-in-law’s Great Dane Riley ate a batch of chocolate chip cookies several years ago and was successfully “treated” with a phone call.  My most recent case of chocolate toxicity was a wonderful medium sized dog who ate some milk chocolate out of a candy bowl.  We carefully calculated the “worst-case” scenario and determined that she did not receive a toxic dose of chocolate.  Only two days later did the family realize there had been some xylitol-containing gum in the candy bowl as well.  She was treated for the xylitol toxicity and is doing great!  My patients provide me endless material to write about, but for their sake, I wish they would not!

May you have several valentines, all beautiful, loyal, sweet and perfect.  That is, may all your valentines be dogs.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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