It's any pet parent's worst nightmare. A mangled chocolate wrapper, the telltale leftovers on your fur baby's face, and the sneaking suspicion that something has gone terribly wrong. With Halloween quickly approaching, knowing what to do if your pet eats chocolate is essential, and it's something you'll want to be prepared for before it actually happens. To ensure that you and your pet stay safe this holiday season, POPSUGAR spoke to pet experts and untangled the truth behind chocolate, why your pets shouldn't eat it, and what your first steps should be if they do. That way, just in case your cat or dog does manage to get into some candy this year, you'll be able to act faster and smarter. Better safe than sorry, especially when it comes to your pets.
Why Is Chocolate So Bad For Your Pet?
According to Kristen Levine, pet parenting expert and creator of Pet Living, while chocolate tastes delicious for humans, it can actually be toxic for pets like cats and dogs. "Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, which we can naturally digest, but dogs and cats cannot," Levine explained. "This can lead to some serious symptoms, and even liver failure."
Experts from PetMD added that traces of caffeine can also contribute to chocolate's harmful effects, and both caffeine and theobromine are present in all kinds of chocolate, just at different levels. As explained by Dr. Sara Ochoa, veterinary consultant for doglab.com, this is what makes some types of chocolate more dangerous than others. For instance, "Milk chocolate does not contain as much cocoa powder and is not as dangerous as bakers or dark chocolate," Dr. Ochoa said. The strength of the toxins in the chocolate is ultimately dependent on the amount of cocoa used, which means dark chocolate is the most dangerous, but even white chocolate can be fatal in some cases.
What Should You Do First If Your Pet Eats Chocolate?
Although your initial reaction might be to panic, the best thing you can do if your pet eats chocolate is to keep your calm and do your best to find out what happened. Dr. Callie Harris, DVM, and Purina veterinarian, recommended looking to see what type of chocolate your pet consumed, how much they ate, and when they ate it. These details can be helpful for your vet in deciding the right course of action, but as Dr. Ochoa said, if you think your pet has eaten a large amount of any chocolate, they should see a vet right away.
Levine agreed, saying that you should contact your vet as soon as possible in order to figure out the next steps. If it's after office hours or on a weekend, she encouraged pet owners to call the closest emergency vet or animal hospital instead (and you can also call the pet poison helpline at 855-213-6680). Once you have done this, Levine said, "Depending on the size of your pet and how much [chocolate] they've ingested, your vet may have you bring them in for an exam and possibly to induce vomiting before the toxin causes more damage." Dr. Harris added that your vet may also have you induce vomiting at home, but this is not something you should attempt on your own without professional guidance (especially with cats, who are famously difficult to make vomit).
Concerning symptoms Dr. Harris said to look out for throughout all of this include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and hyperactivity. Other warning signs Levine advised pet owners to report to their vet are restlessness, increased rate of breathing, increased heart rate, high temperature, seizures, and muscle rigidity.
What Should You Do at the Vet?
When you get to the vet, report any changes in your pet's behavior and try to come prepared with as many details as possible. Levine said to, "Be sure to bring the candy wrapper or any information on the type of chocolate that your pet consumed to your vet appointment to ensure proper treatment, since some chocolates contain more theobromine than others." At this point, your vet will likely induce vomiting to prevent toxicity from setting in. On rare occasions, pets may also be given activated charcoal to deal with extremely high doses of chocolate.
How Much Time Do You Have to Take Action?
The effects of chocolate can set in rapidly, which is why acting quickly is a huge part of keeping your pet safe. Typically, chocolate poisoning begins to affect cats and dogs within six to 12 hours. However, even if your pet isn't exhibiting signs of toxicity yet, Dr. Harris recommended contacting your vet or animal hospital immediately to prevent symptoms from setting in. "This can potentially help you avoid a trip into the vet's office and prevent further danger," Dr. Harris said.
If you aren't completely sure if your pet has eaten chocolate, Levine said it's still imperative to take action because you don't know how much they might have eaten or how long ago they might have eaten it. As soon as you know your pet is safe and healthy again, you might also want to consider finding a new place to keep your chocolate, particularly for pets who love to get into food. Keeping any candy, baked goods, and other chocolaty treats off the counter is also a good idea to ensure that your pets stay safe and sound, no matter how hungry they get.