Sometimes our precious pets may seem invincible, but in reality, they are fragile and susceptible to deadly things. It’s our job as pet parents to be vigilant and aware of what can harm them. In this article, we’ll talk about the dangers of chocolate and xylitol, why they’re toxic, and what to look for if your pet has ingested either.
Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs and Cats
Chocolate poisoning is one of the most common types of poisoning in dogs and cats. The occurrence of chocolate poisoning is of particular concern around Halloween and the holidays, when candy is most plentiful. Due to the toxic effect chocolate has on dogs and cats, it should be kept out of reach of pets. If you have children, teach them from an early age that it is not acceptable to give their pets chocolate and other “human foods”. To be safe, only pet food and treats should be allowed at all times, but especially around Halloween.
Why is chocolate toxic to pets?
Chocolate is processed by grinding shelled cocoa beans. The product that results from this grinding is called chocolate liquor. In chocolate liquor there is a chemical called theobromine. This chemical is why chocolate is toxic to pets (cats and dogs). The more chocolate liquor there is in a product, the more toxic it is to a pet, which means less of it has to be eaten for more severe symptoms to occur.
The highest theobromine content is found in baking chocolate, followed by semi-sweet/dark chocolate, then milk chocolate, and finally white chocolate (which contains an insignificant amount of theobromine). A toxic dose of theobromine is 9 milligrams per pound. This means that a 20 pound animal would need to eat 8.2 ounces of milk chocolate, or just 0.9 ounces of baking chocolate to reach a toxic dose.1
Signs and Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Pets
Although there is a long list of possible symptoms after chocolate poisoning, the most common are:
- Hyperactivity (such as excitement, restlessness, or panting)
- Tremors and seizures
- Running heart rate
- Arrhythmia (when the heart cannot beat properly at a normal rate)
After chocolate is ingested, it takes nearly four days for it to clear an animal’s system. Because of this, symptoms can progress and last for the four days it takes for an animal’s body to eliminate the toxin.
Veterinary treatment for chocolate poisoning
If you suspect or know that your pet has eaten chocolate, it is important to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. Dogs and cats that are treated soon after ingestion are much more likely to avoid toxicities.
If your pet is seen quickly enough, your vet may induce vomiting to try to clear as much of the chocolate from your pet’s system as possible. After an animal vomits, it is usually treated with some form of activated charcoal. The charcoal will help absorb the toxins that are in the chocolate. If too much time has passed after an animal ingests chocolate to be treated with vomit and charcoal, it is usually treated with supportive care. This would include IV fluid therapy and medications specific to the symptoms they might be experiencing.
Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that was first discovered in the late 19th century and was first used as a safer alternative to sugar for diabetic patients. In the 1970s, its oral health benefits were discovered and since then it has been used to sweeten dental products such as toothpaste and mouthwashes, in addition to sugar-free gum and candies. It tastes and looks like sugar and in humans it has very few side effects. In dogs, however, xylitol can be very dangerous, even fatal. The impact of xylitol on cats is unclear.
Why and How Xylitol Is Toxic to Dogs
In humans, xylitol is absorbed very slowly and has little effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. In dogs, however, xylitol is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly. This rapid absorption can cause a generalized release of insulin, which is the cause of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Xylitol can also cause liver failure, which can lead to bleeding problems and death. Unfortunately, very little xylitol can be extremely toxic to dogs. In a 20 pound dog, as little as one or two pieces of gum can cause hypoglycemia.2
Signs and Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
Xylitol toxicity can cause a wide variety of clinical symptoms in dogs.
- Vomiting (which is often the first symptom)
- Hepatic insufficiency
- Bleeding disorders
Veterinary treatment for xylitol poisoning
If you suspect your dog has ingested sugar-free gum or another product containing xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately. Your vet may induce vomiting to try to remove the toxin. However, due to the rapid absorption of xylitol, this must be done very soon after ingestion. With many poisons, activated charcoal can bind some of the toxin, but it is ineffective with xylitol.
If the xylitol has been absorbed, your pet may need extensive supportive care. Vets will likely start IV fluids, possibly containing dextrose (a sugar compound) to try to maintain normal blood sugar levels. A decrease in blood sugar can occur for days after ingesting xylitol, and therefore hospitalization is likely to last several days as well.
If your dog develops liver problems or liver failure, a variety of medications will be needed to try to protect and support liver function. The prognosis of xylitol ingestion is good for uncomplicated decreases in blood sugar. However, the prognosis becomes poor or severe when liver failure and bleeding disorders occur.
1 Parker Animal Hospital (nd). Why is chocolate so bad for dogs? Extract of
2 Morrissette, M. (2012, February 2). Xylitol, the deadly sweetener that can kill your dog in 24 hours, is hiding in things you probably didn’t know. Extract of
Leave a Comment