Thursday, December 5, 2013

Festive season hazard: chocolate & FREE toxicology webinar from VetGirl

This is Belle, who comes from the Australian Capital Territory. We're loving the ears, but suspecting that
Belle is looking to the photographer with the expectation of some kind of food payment.

Here at SAT we are totally excited about the festive season and all that it brings - time with family (all species included), more time outdoors, a sense (however deluded!) that the workload is winding down and the sense of a new beginning. But the festive season is a time when even the non-traditional buy into tradition, resulting in the proliferation of pet-inappropriate foodstuffs in every household.

Today's focus is chocolate. We can't get enough of the stuff, but its toxic to animals and dogs are the number one victim because they are the least fussy in their eating habits. I can tell you, from inducing vomiting a gazillion times, that dogs don't care if they eat the wrappers. 

Chocolate contains methyxanthines (eg caffiene, theobromine) which can cause cardiac and central nervous stimulation, as well as have a diuretic effect. It also contains a lot of fat which (contrary to the beliefs of those who feed their dogs all the gristle from their BBQ) dogs generally don't tolerate as well as us. 

The more cocoa the chocolate contains, the more toxic. So the least toxic is white chocolate, while the most toxic is the increasingly trendy hard-core high-percentage of cocoa gourmet chocolate that everyone seems to like to give everyone at Christmas.

Toxicity will to some extent depend on the size of the dog. A single square of very dark chocolate or cooking chocolate can make a tiny dog very sick...but may not harm a big lab. (Mind you, I would also like to add that big labs DO NOT STOP AT ONE PIECE. I've met labradors who ate entire family blocks in one sitting - in one case 2kg of chocolate - and would eat more if they could find it)(and no, inducing vomiting in such a patient is not pretty).

The serious part, folks: chocolate can kill. As little as 30g of cooking chocolate can kill a 5kg dog. And remember it can be hidden in cakes, brownies, chocolate chips, cocoa powder and cocoa mulch. Oh, and chocolate coated coffee beans. Double-whammy.

So if you think your dog has found your sweet stash, call your veterinarian. It is worth inducing vomiting early in the piece (ideally within 1-2 hours) because this can minimise absorption and signs of toxicity.

Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity usually refer to excitement, and they include restlessness and hyperactivity, panting, signs of nausea like salivation, vomiting (usually brown coloured and possibly containing colourful wrappers) and chocolately-diarrhoea.

Severely affected dogs may exhibit polydipsia, polyuria, ataxia, muscle rigidity, tremors or seizures. Some dogs become cyanotic and require immediate oxygen therapy. Coma can also occur. In addition, if your dog suffers from pancreatitis, a chocolate pig-out will often precipitate a raging bout.

The good news is that most owners are pretty cluey about chocolate being bad and we tend to induce vomiting and send them home. In severe cases dogs require anti-seizure medication, IV fluids and 24 hour monitoring.

If you live with a food motivated hound, you might want to keep your chocolate in a safe.

Also if you're into toxicology, you will want to sign up for VetGirl's seminar on the top 20 poisons affecting your small animal patients. Sign up here.