Spring is in the air! With the holidays and extra activities, we also see extra trips to the emergency service! I am proud to bring my years of emergency care and experience to Banderas Pet Hospital and we will continue to do our best to try and keep you out of the ER room when at all possible!

This mini-series is to go over the most common toxins and what to watch for, and when to bring them in. I will work to try and get more information out to you in the coming weeks.

The top 3 that I personally see are:

  • Chocolate ingestion
  • Raisin/Grape ingestion
  • THC ingestion

These obviously all carry their own risks and concerns so we will just go through the quick guide to each of them. The most important take away from this is PROMPT TREATMENT AND VOMITING TO REDUCE THE TOXIN EXPOSURE can be life-saving. Please do not wait to bring in your pets if they get into something they should not have. This includes toxins, toys, socks, you name it. A chance to safely induce vomiting at the clinic can save you thousands in bills and ultimately save a life. We have effective ways to induce vomiting with either an iv injection or an eye drop. Causing vomiting at home is not typically recommended at this point by ASPCA poison hotline, mainly due to 1) ineffective results and 2) risk of esophageal damage and ulceration.

This mini-series is going to focus on the most common ingestions and I will work to try and get more client information out to you guys in the coming weeks.

Chocolate Ingestion:

At this point, may people are at least aware that chocolate is bad for dogs. That doesn’t seem to keep them out of it though! The worst ingestion I have seen was an entire Costco sized bag of chocolate and wrappers in a basset hound! This was one smelly mess to clean-up!

Chocolate is a toxin in pets because it is not metabolized the same way that it is in people and it is the methylxanthines (theobromine and caffeine) levels that cause the problem. Most commonly, it causes stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, hyperactivity, nervousness, high blood pressure and high heart rates. Large amounts of chocolate ingestion can cause life threatening arrhythmias, seizures or death.

We see the most ingestions around Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. Luckily, most of these ingestions are known to the owner and like most toxins, “the dose makes the poison”. Of course this is relative, so you as veterinarians, we need to take into account your pets weight, the type of chocolate, and the amount of chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is- for example, a small amount of bakers chocolate in a small poodle could be life-threatening.

Since the side effects are generally delayed during digestion, you probably won’t notice any external symptoms initially. That’s okay- but you should still give us a call or come down to cause your pet to vomit – the chance to get it out right away is a chance to save a life and potentially limit the amount of treatment required. The good thing (if there is something) about chocolate is that it is fatty and seems ball up and sometimes sit in the stomach for longer than other toxins – meaning we have a decent chance to vomit this out. The sooner the better, but I have seen chocolate come up even 8 hours later (not that I am at all recommending waiting that long).

Once we have induced vomiting to remove the chocolate, I give an antinausea injection to stop the vomiting and administer activated charcoal. The charcoal binds the remaining chocolate and can be given if the patient is still capable of swallowing. This is given more than once, due to a tricky enterohepatic circulation – meaning the toxins get a second and third pass from gut to liver, which creates even more toxin exposure.

After inducing vomiting, we want to get as much flushed out of the system as possible. Since the metabolites are excreted primarily in the urine, we administer IV fluids (or subcutaneous in less severe cases) to increase urinary removal. Due to rapid heart rates, we will monitor response of the heart rate and sometimes keep them on a continuous EKG to monitor for arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).

While most patients do well, I have to say a lot of this is attributed to patients being brought in right away for treatment. This is still a life-threatening toxin. If you have had experience with chocolate before and “nothing happened” please don’t take this to mean that your next experience will go as smoothly. The liver enzyme (cytochrome P450) that help cleanse the body of toxins, have now been found to be highly variable between pet patients. This means each dog is different in its ability to metabolize the chocolate they are exposed to.

Once our patients are stable, we try to get them home for monitoring. Symptoms typically resolve in 24-72 hours depending on the amount of exposure and interventions. Feed a bland diet and expect black dark stool (from the charcoal). Monitor for the next 1-2 weeks for the development of pancreatitis (thought to be from the amount of fat exposure).

TAKE-HOME message:

  • Keep chocolate up and away from the reach of your pets
  • Call immediately after exposure (or contact ASPCA Poison control after-hours to determine the severity of exposure, charges apply 888-426-4435)
  • We are going to need to know: weight, type of chocolate and time of ingestion
  • Pancreatitis can show up as vomiting, diarrhea and/or decreased appetite 1-2 weeks after exposure to large amounts of chocolate or fat.
As always, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your pet’s medical care team! We will address the other toxins over the coming weeks.

In love and health,
Dr. Jenna Cooper