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Ask the Vet: Kiddie treats can play tricks on pets

As we prepare for Halloween and the PetCare of Duluth treat station at Lake Superior Zoo's "Boo at the Zoo," I thought it would be a good time to talk about chocolate and our pets.

Most pet owners have heard that chocolate is bad, but most don't know why. I'd like to discuss the side effects, the doses and the types of chocolate about which we need to be most worried.

The ingredient in chocolate that causes problems in pets is a compound called theobromine, which is related to caffeine. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine is present. Therefore, a small Tootsie Roll or a few M&Ms are unlikely to cause a problem. If we had a 20 pound dog, it would need to ingest about 5 ounces of milk chocolate to have signs of chocolate toxicity. But it would be in a potentially dangerous range with only 2 ounces of dark chocolate or a single ounce of baker's chocolate.

Another chocolate-related hazard we tend to overlook in our homes is cocoa bean mulch, which is used in house plants. Cocoa bean mulch contains high amount of theobromine and can cause signs of chocolate toxicity.

At the low end of the dose range, the signs of chocolate ingestion are often limited to stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. At this end of the range, the signs can be as much from the fat that is often present in chocolate products as much as from the chocolate itself.

As the amount ingested increases, we expect to see greater signs of agitation. The pet's heart rate will increase, and it may be panting and pacing excessively.

If levels of chocolate are ingested that approach the toxic dose, we would begin to see more advanced neurological involvement, including muscle tremors, seizure, coma and possibly death.

About 95 percent of calls to the national Pet Poison Hotline are related to dogs ingesting chocolate.

It seems cats tend to be more discriminate.

It's always a good idea to contact your veterinarian if you have concerns that your pet has ingested too much chocolate. Initial treatment for chocolate ingestion include decontamination --inducing vomiting and administering a substance called activated charcoal -- in an attempt to decrease the absorption of theobromine.

Your pet then would receive treatment based on the amount of chocolate it ingested and signs it was displaying. The prognosis for a full recovery is excellent for pets that display signs of stomach upset or agitation. Pets with more extreme neurological symptoms can make a full recovery if appropriate therapy is initiated.

As with many hazards, avoidance is easier than treatment. Remind children to pick up candy bowls and keep chocolate baked goods covered and well out of the reach of even the sneakiest pets.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at or 218-461-4400. For more information about this subject go to