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First aid for poisoning I - Chocolate

author Lucy Byrne | Health and diet

My dog used to be a little dustbin. He was capable of swallowing almost anything, even though it might not have been edible. From time to time, despite all caution, something “mysteriously” disappeared. For example, a whole loaf of bread from a high bar counter. Thank God, no poisoning ever happened, but preparing for it was appropriate.

You might be saying to yourself that this will never happen to you, that your dog is trained... Whether its human attention or dog will, it can falter, even for one second, and you have a problem. That’s why it’s good to prepare for everything and to find out at least a minimum of information, while there’s still time.

Many of us surely know someone who has a dog that ate a chocolate and nothing happened to it. My friend’s dog ate two whole bars of chocolate and survived unharmed.

But this doesn’t mean, that it’s not poisonous for them. More specifically, it’s the theobromine that it contains. It’s precisely theobromine (bitter alkaloid of the cocoa-tree) that is responsible for its toxicity for cats and dogs. You can find it even in tea or coke products. It’s concentration differs depending on the quality of a given product. The most dangerous ones for animals are cocoa beans and cocoa powder. The greatest content is in chocolates for cooking and bitter chocolates.

But dogs can poison themselves even by regular chocolate. It always depends on the quality or the content of theobromine, the size of the dog and the consumed amount. In a greater amount, theobromine may cause muscle tremor in the dog, seizures, irregular heart beat, inner bleeding or a heart attack. Just to give you an idea:

  • in a regular cocoa powder, you will find 2.16% of theobromine (but there are also ones that contain up to 10%)
  • in a regular chocolate it’s 0.5 - 2.7%
  • in white chocolate it's only trace amounts
  • in smaller amounts, theobromine is contained in the Kola nut (1.0-2.5%), the Guarana fruit and the tea plant

Symptoms of poisoning

  • increased, more frequent urination
  • accelerated heartbeat that can increase up to a cardiac arrhythmia
  • nervousness, agitation, insomnia      
  • muscle spasms and seizures
  • nausea and vomiting

In a regular milk chocolate, symptoms of poisoning with theobromine will appear in a dog or cat already from 10 g to 1 kg of their weight, especially in smaller dog breeds, this dosis may be even lethal. Death from poisoning of a dog or cat with chocolate can occur in rare cases even from the dose of 115 mg/kg of theobromine.

First aid

Try to induce vomiting in the animal. To this effect, it is recommended to use a 3% hydrogen peroxide diluted with water to half the concentration. At best, it is applied with a syringe into the mouth. Upon swallowing, the peroxide will start fizzing and it will cause bloating in the stomach of the animal which will induce vomiting.

Give the animal some black or rather active coal - it is able to bind toxins.

In case you have a suspicion of cat or dog poisoning, always seek out veterinary help as soon as possible or consult further steps with a veterinarian. In more urgent cases, you can call a pet ambulance.

If the animal has spasms and muscle contractions, a veterinarian will suppress them with medication or they will slightly sedate it. Supporting hydration of the organism with infusion is appropriate. Remember, that a timely veterinary intervention might save the animal’s life and even tens of minutes might be crucial.