It’s almost that time of year again—when love is shown with heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate wonders.  Yes, it’s almost Valentine’s Day.  And while for you the greatest threat of these delectable treats is breaking your New Year’s resolutions, those little boxes can hide significant dangers for your furry best friend.

We all know that chocolate is bad for dogs, but not all of us may realize why.  The toxic component of chocolate is a compound called theobromine, which is very similar to caffeine.  Theobromine causes dose-dependent stomach upset, agitation, muscle tremors, high heart rates, heart arrhythmias, and, in severe cases, even seizures and death.  Signs are generally seen within 6 to 12 hours after ingestion, and can last for up to 72 hours without treatment.

Levels of theobromine vary based on the type of chocolate, with white chocolate containing trace amounts and baking chocolate containing the highest quantity.  Toxic doses can be as low as 9 mg of theobromine per pound of body weight with more severe symptoms being seen at doses of 18 mg per pound and higher.  Symptoms can be seen if a 50 pound dog eats only 8 ounces of milk chocolate, 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate, or 1.5 ounces of baking chocolate.

However, it is not just the theobromine that can be problematic.  Chocolate also contains high levels of sugar and fat.  If your dog ingests too much of these things, gastrointestinal upset or even pancreatitis can result. Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, can lead to vomiting and gastrointestinal pain. These clinical signs sometimes resolve quickly, but in other cases can progress to severe illness and even death. Certain breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers, are predisposed to pancreatitis. Clinical signs of pancreatitis may be delayed for 2 to 3 days after ingestion of the inciting product.

Chocolate is not the only hazard inside that lovely little box.  All those individual candy wrappers and cardboard can be dangerous, too.  While we may not find these things appetizing, your dog probably won’t take the time to separate the paper from the candy, typically inhaling the contents as a whole.  If enough paper material or wrappers are ingested, they can get stuck in the stomach or intestines and cause an obstruction, which may require surgery to correct.

We also cannot forget all the extras hidden inside the treats themselves.  Raisins and macadamia nuts are common in mixed-chocolate assortments, and both can be toxic to dogs.  Raisins, in some dogs, can cause severe vomiting and kidney failure.  Macadamia nuts are associated with a temporary weakness or paralysis of the back legs.

Lastly, you may think that sugar-free versions of any candy would be safer, but these candies often have a sugar substitute called xylitol.  (Strangely enough, xylitol is also found in many toothpastes.)  While safe for us, xylitol can be especially toxic to dogs.  Higher doses can cause liver failure that may not be evident until a couple of days after ingestion, making successful treatment very challenging.  Even at lower doses, xylitol can cause a very quick and severe drop in blood sugar that may result in seizures, coma, and even death.

For once, you have full permission NOT to share those decadent treats your loved ones may bestow on you!  Keep them safely hidden away in a cupboard, pantry, or even the microwave, where inquisitive and hungry little noses won’t be able to find them.  If your faithful companion still manages to sneak a quick snack, or you suspect that they might have, it’s best to seek veterinary advice and attention as soon as possible, even if your dog is acting normally.  Treatment is most effective and least expensive when started early, before serious complications arise.

At AES, our emergency service is available 24 hours a day, every day, including Valentine’s Day.  We are fully equipped with a trained and knowledgeable staff to provide the highest quality and compassionate care to your pet, even if they might have stolen all your chocolate!  Call us anytime at 425.827.8727.