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Chocolate toxicity in dogs

Chocolate toxicity claims increase each April^. With Easter just around the corner, here’s what you need to know about this potentially life-threatening illness.

What is chocolate toxicity?

Caffeine and theobromine are Methylxanthines, and are stimulants found in cacao, which produce the typical signs of chocolate toxicity. Different types of chocolate contain different quantities of these substances, with cocoa powder being the most toxic. The type and amount of chocolate consumed determines the severity of the toxicity produced. The stimulatory effect of the caffeine and theobromine increase the heart rate and overstimulate the nervous system.

According to the PetSure claims data from calendar years 2018 to 2020, although chocolate toxicity occurs all year round, cases peak in April and again in December each year, corresponding with the major holidays of these months – Easter and Christmas.

Which breeds are affected?

Any breed or age of dog or cat are susceptible to chocolate toxicity. Keeping chocolate, cocoa or other products containing cocoa (such as protein powders, baked goods and so on) safely in containers where they cannot be accessed by any pets is one of the best ways to avoid accidental ingestion.

Signs of chocolate toxicity

Chocolate toxicity is dose dependent, so the severity of the effects worsens when a larger amount of chocolate is consumed.

Help to understand the dose and effects of chocolate on your dog by using a chocolate toxicity calculator. Remember that this cannot replace Vet advice, and if your dog has eaten chocolate or appears unwell in any way, get in touch with your Vet.

Signs of chocolate toxicity can include:

  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting/diarrhoea
  • Increased thirst & excessive urination
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure
  • Sudden death

It is also worth noting that as chocolate is usually quite fatty, it can also cause Pancreatitis which is inflammation of the pancreas. So even if a dog has not had a large enough dose of chocolate to produce toxicity, they could still be affected by Pancreatitis

Treatment of chocolate toxicity

If caught early, the Vet will likely induce vomiting to remove as much of the chocolate as possible as the first course of action. Treatment otherwise generally involves hospitalisation and supportive care. This means intravenous fluids, sedatives, and drugs to help alleviate tremors and stabilise the heart may also be used. Activated charcoal is used to help absorb the toxins. Close monitoring of the patient’s temperature, electrolyte balance and heart status is important. A urinary catheter may be placed to help prevent reabsorption of the toxins through the bladder. It takes several days for chocolate to leave the body, so treatment may be required for several days.

How much does it cost to treat?

According to PetSure claims data from the 2020 calendar year, the average, single treatment cost relating to chocolate toxicity was $380 with the highest, single treatment cost being $3,858.

Is chocolate toxicity covered by pet insurance?

Chocolate toxicity arising within your policy period and outside of applicable waiting periods is generally covered under Comprehensive Accidental Injury and Illness pet insurance policies administered by PetSure, subject to your policy terms and conditions. Refer to your policy documents and Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for more information. Check our brand partners at petsure.com.au/partners.

^ Based on PetSure claims data for chocolate toxicity over the past three calendar years 2018-2020.

References

  1. Brooks, W, 2004, Veterinary Partner, Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs, Accessed on 02 February 2021, available at: https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4952115
  2. Gwaltney-Brant, S, 2013, MSD Manual, Chocolate, Accessed on 02 February 2021, available at https://www.msdvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/chocolate
  3. VIN Mobile Calculators, Chocolate Toxicity, accessed on 03 February 2021, available at http://www.veterinarypartner.com/ChocToxCalc_vetPartner.html

Any advice is general only and has not considered your personal circumstances, so may not be right for you. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider to decide if a product is right for you. Insurance products are issued by The Hollard Insurance Company Pty Ltd (ABN 78 090 584 473; AFSL 241436) and administered by PetSure (Australia) Pty Ltd (ABN 95 075 949 923; AFSL 420183) through our Authorised Representatives and our distribution partners.

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