Family Visits… and Emergency Vet Visits

Chocolate truffles

We all know that chocolate is deadly for dogs. And we do our best to keep it safely away from our pets. But during the holidays, when family and friends are visiting, it can be more difficult to make sure that the sweet stuff stays away from our pooches.

Family members were visiting this past week, and unbeknownst to us, left a small bag of rich, dark chocolate truffles (from Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe) on a table in the living room. We were out for two hours, and returned to find remnants of a chewed paper bag and a little paper truffle cup on the floor—the truffles were long gone. Although we have three dogs, only the little one jumps up on that table. I raced from dog to dog, opening their muzzles and putting my nose inside their mouths, checking for the telltale smell of chocolate. But given how quickly the chocolate must have been consumed, it was hard to smell any on their breath.

We called the emergency veterinary hospital and rushed in with all three fur children. Our little dog was seen first, and the contents of her stomach revealed that she had, indeed, eaten most or all of the chocolate.  Her big brothers were grateful they didn’t have to have their stomachs pumped! After about an hour, she was given activated charcoal to help absorb any remaining caffeine and theobromine in her system.

But this isn’t the end of the care necessary for chocolate consumption. We learned that the toxic effects of chocolate remain in a dog’s system for four days. The caffeine and theobromine affect three systems: the nervous system, where they can cause tremors, seizure, and death; the cardiac system, where they can cause lethally fast heart rates; and the digestive system, where they can cause vomiting and diarrhea. For the next four days, we had to watch little Lucia closely for a fast heart beat or tremors, and limit her activity to rest and outside only for potty.

While all chocolate is deadly, the heart of what makes it so is the caffeine and theobromine. Both are stimulants, diuretics and are especially potent in dogs. There are three variables that veterinarians use to determine the degree of danger: the darkness of the chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the worse it is for dogs), how recently the chocolate was eaten (the sooner it can be purged from their stomach, the better), and the size of the dog (the smaller the dog, the more potent the effects).

If your dog ever consumes chocolate, contact your emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. They’ll review the situation with you and help determine if your dog needs to be seen. Had we not taken action as quickly as we did, our little dog could have died. Makes us wonder if it’s even worth it to have chocolate in the house at all…