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Chocolate has some chemicals that can really harm dogs and cats. In this lesson, we will learn about these chemicals and discuss some symptoms of chocolate poisoning. We’ll also cover what you should do if you think your pet has eaten chocolate.

Cats, Dogs, and Chocolate

One holiday season I had a bowl of chocolates sitting in a tray. They stayed there untouched for several days until one day I came home to find a wad of empty, sticky, licked wrappers on the floor.

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One of my cats was running into walls at full speed. The other one was lumbering around, looking sick and groaning. So; whodunit?My cats are pretty unusual in that most cats don’t like chocolate. Because cats are meat-eaters, they don’t have any reason for a sweet tooth. You, and your dogs, produce a protein in your tongues that allows you to taste sweet things, but your cat’s tongue doesn’t even make this protein.

So cats can’t detect sweet things at all. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores; they eat a more varied diet, and so it is beneficial for them to taste, and enjoy, sweet things. That’s why you might have heard to keep chocolate away from dogs. Chocolate is listed among the top 20 causes of poisoning in dogs – but beware, chocolate is very harmful to cats as well! Chocolate poisoning has even been reported in horses, but luckily, horses are less likely to come across chocolate. Usually, with horses, cocoa bean waste used as bedding is to blame.

What’s in Chocolate?

Chocolate contains a mild drug called theobromine, which literally means ‘food of the gods.’ It’s chemically very similar to caffeine, which explains why some people feel that chocolate perks them up. Theobromine and caffeine block chemicals from reaching receptors in your brain that regulate how sleepy you feel. This temporarily increases your heart rate and the flow of oxygen to your brain. Theobromine can also affect our levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that (if you’ll forgive the oversimplification; neurotransmitters have many uses and are rarely so simple) can increase our sense of well-being.

Theobromine
Theobromine
Caffeine
Dark chocolate is more toxic to pets than milk chocolate.

Dark chocolate is more toxic to pets than milk chocolate.

What Should You Do if Your Pet Eats Chocolate?

If your pet eats chocolate, call a veterinarian right away.

There isn’t a specific antidote for chocolate, so the treatment generally consists of detoxification and of helping your pet to feel better. If your pet hasn’t had time to fully metabolize the chocolate, a vet may suggest you help your pet to vomit it up. But chocolate can form a sticky mass in the stomach, making it hard to evacuate. In addition, if it has been more than three or four hours, vomiting probably won’t help.Theobromine poisoning tends to set in after 6-12 hours. Symptoms include high temperature, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, rapid pulse, rapid breathing, and hyperactivity.

In severe cases, this can lead to a coma.Based on the description, I have a good bet that both of my cats ate the chocolate. I’m very lucky that they both turned out OK! But if nothing else, I’m glad that they apparently were able to share the candy.

Lesson Summary

Chocolate can make dogs and cats very sick.

Dogs are more likely to eat chocolate than cats, because dogs can sense sweet things, while cats cannot.Theobromine is a mild stimulant in chocolate that increases our blood flow and heart rate and may improve our mood. It’s chemically similar to caffeine.Dogs and cats are more sensitive to theobromine than humans, and they metabolize it at a much slower rate. The LD50, the dose at which 50% of test animals die, for chocolate in dogs is much lower than it is for humans.

If your pet ever eats chocolate, talk to your veterinarian rather than trying to take action by yourself. Some signs that your pet may have eaten chocolate include high temperature, high heart rate, diarrhea, vomiting, hyperactivity, and seizures – as well as the telltale empty candy wrappers.

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