Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
Dear RV Vet,
I know that chocolate can be bad for dogs, but what about cats? We travel with a 5-year-old cat, Harley, and Bowen, a 7-year-old Shih Tzu. Thanks. –Jack H.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this is a great time to talk about chocolate toxicity in our pets.
Cats rarely eat chocolate; they are usually more discriminating than dogs about what they eat. However, chocolate can be slightly more toxic to cats than dogs, so it is a concern for both species.
Let’s say your pets have been alone in the rig for a few hours. You forgot to put that heart-shaped box of chocolates out of reach of the dog, or in a cabinet away from the cat. When you get home, you find the box on the floor with several pieces missing. You ate only a couple of pieces before you left. Should you be concerned? Yes!
You should call your vet or the Pet Poison Hotline (see below for details) right away. You will be asked several questions. Let’s use Bowen as an example.
•Do you know how many pieces Bowen may have eaten?
•Are the wrappers also gone? Are they paper or foil?
•Does the candy appear to be milk chocolate?
•How much does Bowen weigh?
•Is Bowen having any symptoms (see below)?
Because you don’t know who ate the chocolate, you’ll be asked the same questions about Harley.
Here’s why the answers to these questions are important:
•Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine. Dogs and cats metabolize these compounds much more slowly than humans, allowing the compounds to reach toxic levels before being broken down. This makes their toxicity dose-related, meaning the smaller the dose, the less likely there will be problems. That’s why it’s important to know how many pieces Bowen may have ingested.
•Candy wrappers may contribute to digestive upsets, and could potentially cause a GI blockage.
•The type of chocolate is very important. In general, the darker and less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it will be. For example, white chocolate has very low levels of theobromine and caffeine.
FOR PET OWNERS
While RVing, have you ever had to rush your pet to a vet in an emergency?
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In order of less toxicity to the most:
•Semi-sweet chocolate (as in chocolate chips)
•Unsweetened baker’s chocolate
For a 30-pound dog like Bowen, four ounces of milk chocolate would produce only very mild, if any, symptoms. But four ounces of cocoa powder in the same dog would cause a severe toxic emergency, even death; the dog would need immediate emergency care.
•Weight: Because toxicity depends on the weight of the animal.
•Symptoms: Vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, agitation, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, possibly death.
If you know it has been less than two hours since Bowen ate the chocolate, and IF he isn’t showing any symptoms, your veterinarian may suggest a way to induce vomiting. You could also call the Pet Poison Helpline.
If it’s been more than two hours, or if Bowen is showing symptoms, you need to rush him to a veterinarian.
There is no specific antidote for chocolate poisoning. Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms, but may include basic supportive care (IV fluids, gastric lavage) and ECG monitoring. Your veterinarian may also want to do diagnostic tests such as a blood chemistry panel and urinalysis.
*Most dogs and cats survive because their owners sought immediate medical treatment.*
And don’t forget other foods that could be toxic: chocolate covered raisins, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, flavored vitamins.
Need an easy reminder of the foods your dogs and cats can and cannot eat? This great fridge magnet is a helpful resource.
Finally, post this number on your refrigerator and/or put it in your phone: Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661. (There is a $59 charge for using this service.)
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at [email protected]
Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for a little more than 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She pulls a fifth wheel with her 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs (3 Chihuahuas: Tootie, Chiquita, and BooBoo, and a Yorkie, Janie), and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot named Toby. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. Her hobbies include sewing, especially quilting, crafts, reading and writing.