Dogs and Chocolate Do Not Mix

Posted by Chris Chandler on

The chocolate eating culprit

    What a relaxing Saturday afternoon it had been. A sunny, blue sky winter day that had me swimming outdoors in the heated pool at my gym then an early dinner with my 16 year old son. When I walked in the door around 5:30 pm, I was already imagining myself in my pajamas with a book and knitting in front of the fire.
    And then I saw the jumble of chocolate wrappers on the living room rug. Ugh. I had cleaned out a cabinet in the kitchen above the cat feeding area, to make a place to store cat food so Buddy, our black Lab, would stop stealing the containers. I had left a number of chocolate bars on a high shelf I was (mostly) sure he couldn’t reach. Only it turns out he could. He did.
    Not just chocolate. Dark chocolate. Not just a little. A lot. Chocolate is toxic to dogs due to the caffeine and theobromine it contains—dogs are highly sensitive to these substances.*
    I knew my plans for relaxing in front of the fire had just changed. I immediately called the emergency vet. Based on my estimation that he’d possibly eaten 15-20 ounces, it was recommend I bring him in. “Do you need time to think about it?” I did not. “No. We’re getting in the car now.”
    Luckily I hadn’t been gone that long—a few hours—though the likelihood was that he’d gotten into the chocolate soon after I left. My husband, Buddy’s emotional support person, had left earlier in the day for a business trip. Buddy does not like it when he sees the suitcase come out, especially when it is packed by Adam. He protests by counter surfing or getting into the trash—though there usually isn’t anything dangerous in his reach so it’s more annoying than dangerous.
    So far, Buddy did not seem any worse for wear. He was cheerful as ever if a tiny bit guilty. Sugarplum, one of our other dogs, would not come out of the bedroom. One of my sons calls Sugarplum “Sheriff Sugar” because she knows all the household rules for the other animals and enforces them. She seems to feel guilty when Buddy gets into trouble and she hasn’t been able to stop him.
    It never occurred to me that the other dogs might have gotten into the chocolate action. But honestly, I’m sure Buddy inhaled it all so fast they didn’t have a chance even if they had hoped to participate. Though Sugar would never.
    We use a mobile vet who comes to our house so Buddy, never having been to a traditional veterinary office, has not had the chance to develop nervousness about the it. We arrived at the vet, he ran inside the door, happily hopped onto the scale and then waited for the treats he was sure were coming.
    “So, this is the naughty chocolate eater, right?”
    “Yes, how did you guess?”
    Given Labs’ trait of being food obsessed, I imagine they make up the bulk of the ER vet visits for eating bad things.
    Buddy was escorted to the back while I settled in for the wait in a treatment room. Meanwhile my husband was texting me from his destination where he’d just arrived. Not wanting to worry him until I knew more, I cheerfully texted back to his photo of the margarita in the pretty glass as he shared dinner with his mom. I couldn’t believe this was happening. And that it was my own stupidity that had gotten us here. I mean, I didn’t think he could reach the chocolate. But it had crossed my mind more than once I should put it back into the cabinet where I knew it was out of reach. I wasn’t sure what I would do or how I would forgive myself if I had killed our dog.
    The initial treatment was to induce vomiting. The less of the chocolate absorbed into his system, the better, so whatever chocolate remained in his stomach needed to be out.
    The vet tech came in to say he had vomited A LOT which made me feel both better and worse. Lots out was good but that also meant lots had gone in. She laughed at how goofy and sweet he was. He has some quirks that we think are related to his stray/rescue history. He does not like to be restrained or to have pressure put on his backside or feet. She said he was growling but wagging whenever they had to restrain him.
    As they gave him subcutaneous fluids, he arranged himself into downward dog and contentedly received the neck rubs offered. The final part of his treatment was to ingest activated charcoal that would absorb the remaining offending substances in his intestines, to be eliminated when he pooped.
    Being a Lab who is happy to eat anything, he happily scarfed down the activated charcoal offered to him as if it were a delicious treat and then had a lovely dinner provided by the vet clinic. When he came back to me, he was still his happy, wagging self.
    I chose to monitor him at home overnight, watching for signs of restlessness and elevated heart rate, vomiting or diarrhea. Because of all the fluids they gave him, they recommended I let him outside every two to three hours. He thought I was nuts when I tried to get him to leave his warm bed and go out into the cold and dark at 1 am. He was totally fine and slept the rest of the night.
    I believe he learned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from this experience. I imagine his take away went like this: “I got to go on a ride in the car to see these nice people! They paid lots of attention to me and gave me neck rubs and talked to me in nice voices. And they fed me some very tasty food and some weird black treats! There was some inconvenient vomiting in there somewhere but no matter. That didn’t last long.”
    My take away was, once again, that I SHOULD NOT ignore the little warning voice in my head. The one that, in this instance, kept saying, “The chocolate might be safe there but you’re not 100% sure.” I almost always regret ignoring that voice.
    Happily we had a good outcome.

*According to PetMD ( “Chocolate contains substances known as methylxanthines (specifically caffeine and theobromine), which dogs are far more sensitive to than people. Different types of chocolate contain varying amounts of methylxanthines. In general, though, the darker and more bitter the chocolate the greater the danger.
    For instance, 8 ounces (a ½ pound) of milk chocolate may sicken a 50-pound dog, whereas a dog of the same size can be poisoned by as little as 1 ounce of Baker's chocolate!

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  • Oh my, so glad Buddy was OK! That little voice is so important, but how often do so many of us not listen to it. You are not alone!

    dawn kairns on

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