How To Keep Valentine’s Day Happy

lethal chocolate for dogsValentine’s Day is all about showing your loved ones how much you care about them and it normally includes cards, jewelry and of course chocolate.  But chocolate can be a death sentence to our furry loved ones especially small and older dogs.  And while your dog may have consumed small bits of chocolate in the past with no noticeable consequences, there is something you need to know about dogs and chocolate that could save you a hefty vet bill.

As we all know, chocolate is made from the cocoa bean and that cocoa beans contain caffeine which alone is dangerous to dogs. What you may not know is the more deadly chemical compound called theobromine is found in them as well. Theobromine is what we get our chocolate “buzz” from and while it only lasts 20-40 minutes in humans, the dog metabolizes it much slower.  Veterinarian Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald points out that after 17 hours after a dog ingests chocolate, half the theobromine is still in the dog’s system.

During this time with dangerous amounts of chocolate, toxicity begins to show up in the dog’s behavior within four to twenty four hours after consumption.  It will first cause vomiting and diarrhea, excessive thirst and increased urination as well as restlessness. While toxic amounts can induce hyperactivity, lack of co-ordination, tremors, high blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, seizures, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest.

And while we do not want to rain on your Valentine’s Day parade, Dana Farbman, Certified Veterinary Technician and Manager, Client and Professional Relations, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center points out, “Chocolate ingestions are one common reason why pet owners and veterinarians call us. However, it would be difficult to verify an exact ranking in frequency of calls, as the types of substances we receive calls on can vary greatly depending on many factors, including the time of year. We generally do experience somewhat of a rise in chocolate calls around holidays, such as Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

While the best solution to this problem is to keep chocolate away from your dogs, if they come across some it would help to know how much is too much for your dog. So here are some guidelines to follow.

Milk chocolate: 1 ounce per pound of body weight. Approximately one pound of milk chocolate is poisonous to a 20-pound dog; one-half pound for a 10-pound dog. The average chocolate bar contains 2 to 3 ounces of milk chocolate. It would take 2-3 candy bars to poison a 10 pound dog. Semi-sweet chocolate has a similar toxic level.

Sweet cocoa: 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight. One-third of a pound of sweet cocoa is toxic to a 20-pound dog; 1/6 pound for a 10-pound dog.

Baking chocolate: 0.1 ounce per pound body weight. Two one-ounce squares of bakers’ chocolate is toxic to a 20-pound dog; one ounce for a 10-pound dog.

National Geographic has an interactive chocolate chart if you want more details on how much would be a problem for your individual dogs.

If you want to treat your dog to a chocolate treat, use carob in or on dog cookies or biscuits.  It is safe for them and fun for you.

As a side note: While I am unfamiliar with a cocoa bean shell mulch it is indeed very toxic to dogs and highly attractive to them due to the sweet smell.  A 10 pound dog would need to consume a mere 2 ounces to get a lethal dose of  theobromine. Due to the high potency, by the time symptoms appear in dogs it is too late as too much internal damage has already been done.