Weeknight and 24 hr weekend emergency service
My Dog Ate Chocolate !
Christmas and Easter are especially busy times for us at the Waikato After Hours Veterinary Hospital (WAVH) as while families are at home or away celebrating with delicious feasts and treats, their pets take every opportunity to indulge in things that they shouldn’t. Often what animals ingest over these festive times can be very dangerous and even life threatening. If you suspect that your dog or cat has eaten chocolate, slug bait or has feasted from the compost heap, call us straight away for advice!
We have seen them all – the box of Scorched Almonds, a packet of Easter eggs and even a whole entire Chocolate Cake (yes – it was a Labrador). When you call us, we will ask you what type of chocolate, how much has been eaten and what your dog weighs. We then use a toxicity calculator to determine whether or not your animal has eaten an excessive amount. It is the caffeine and theobromine (more in dark chocolate than milk) ingredients of chocolate that affect our domestic pets – they are much more sensitive than us humans. If the alarm bells go off, we will suggest that you come and see us immediately. We can simply induce your pet to vomit before the chocolate is absorbed and causes clinical signs – we don’t mind – it is quite impressive seeing the lake of chocolate that is produced! Activated charcoal can then be given after emesis to prevent absorption of any residual chocolate toxins that re-circulate.
There is no specific antidote for chocolate and so if you come home from the an afternoon out only to find that your pet has been home alone for few hours helping itself to your chocolate stash, it may already be showing signs of toxicity – vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, hyperactivity, panting and convulsions. If this is the case, we will need to see them immediately for supportive treatment and critical care. Intravenous fluid therapy to stabilise the cardio-respiratory system can be given along with drugs to relax and reduce seizures and tremors. Beta blockers can be given to help reduce tachycardia (fast heart rate) but worse case scenario, animals can unfortunately die from cardiac and respiratory failure.
Be careful with other poisons too!
It is not only indoors that our beloved pets can feast on things that they shouldn’t. In autumn (Easter!) and spring we often see animals that have consumed copious amounts of slug bait from freshly planted gardens. It is not a pretty sight for owners to finish up at work and find their pet dog or cat trembling, excitable, panting, vomiting and having episodes of diarrhoea. The vomit and diarrhoea is an almost a highlighter blue colour from the slug pellet ingredients which along with tasty additives (apple, rice, soybean, oats) is very attractive and palatable to the pet Pug or again Labrador! Most packaging advises that slug bait contains animal deterrents but these are not often adequate at preventing curious or ravenous pets from helping themselves.
There are three common types/active ingredients in slug bait – Iron EDTA, Metaldehyde and Methoicarb – the last two of which are highly toxic. Iron EDTA is the more effective of the three slug baits and would need to be ingested in large amounts to cause toxicity in our domestic pets so we rarely see it presented at the emergency hospital but it does happen. Iron toxicity requires a very specific medical treatment and the symptoms are quite different . Unfortunately packaging and marketing is very good for Metaldehyde & Methoicarb which makes them a common purchase for avid gardeners.
If your dog or cat has ingested slug pellets they may be showing signs of vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle twitching, abnormal heart rates, hyper salivation and abnormal pupil size. When they come into the clinic and are examined, we often identify that they have a ‘shake and bake’ presentation – high temperature and seizures. The temperatures are so high that we will be running around with cold, wet towels and ice packs trying to cool the animal down. Like all animals that come in requiring critical care, we place an IV line for fast access drug administration such as those used to control seizures and also for fluid support. Once this is all in place, the focus shifts to increasing the excretion of the toxin by performing repeat enemas (our job is so glamorous!). Methiocarb products require more specific treatment with a drug called Atropine to increase the heart to a normal rate and reduce salivation.
Aside from slug baits there are MORE unsuspecting dangers in the garden! Did you ever think that compost could be lethal to our canine and feline friends? It is in our top three most commonly treated toxicities! Compost potentially contains toxic products called Mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mould). When ingested, within a few hours we see animals presenting with seizures, hyperactivity, muscle tremors, high temperatures and drooling.
An innocent looking piece of cheese
An innocent looking piece of cheese or bread with Penicillin mould could be all it takes. Like chocolate and slug bait, animals require very aggressive emergency therapy including drugs for seizure control, fluid therapy, decontamination and if in a critical way, we can administer a product called Intralipid into their veins which can help stop the toxin from working.
All three of the above toxicities can have long term impact on the liver and other organs so we will always recommend blood tests to assess for damage. We will suggest also that blood gases and other inflammatory blood tests are run to ensure that we have the best overall assessment of your animal for treatment.
So please remember to keep your stash of chocolate high up and locked away from your insatiable pets, build a high wall around your compost bin and if any, buy the Iron EDTA version of slug bait.
And if you know or suspect that your favourite little furry friend has consumed any of the above, please call us immediately. We will be on the end of the phone and at the clinic if you need us. Don’t leave it too late! Call us if you are concerned we are an After Hours Emergency Vet that services the Waikato region – Call: 07 839 5656
Dr Fiona Walkinton
BVSc (distinction) Massey University