Chocolate Poisoning: Comfort For Us, Catastrophe For Our Pet Friends

Chocolate is one of the favourite foods of human beings. A gift, a comfort food, a truce, you name it, chocolate has everything covered. And it is unanimously favourite in almost all the age groups, but more in the younger ones. All and all, chocolates’ demand isn’t going down anytime in the near future. And speaking of tasty treats, we are taught to share it with friends. But are they good for our furry, pet friends too? Actually they aren’t! 

Animals, especially the commonly domesticated ones, are susceptible to chocolate poisoning. Chocolate contains a compound theobromine (C7H8N4O2), which is an alkaloid found in the cocoa trees. Apart from chocolate, this alkaloid is also found in tea leaves, kola nut, etc.  It has resemblance to the stimulants like caffeine and theophylline, and can be classified as xanthine alkaloid. For now, the median lethal doses for the cats, dogs, rats and mices are commonly known.

Alkaloids are organic compounds with a typically basic chemistry, but they also contain some compounds with neutral, or even slightly acidic properties. They all, uniformly, have a bitter taste. In nature, bitter taste is a danger indicator, and hence, are produced in several plants, like cocoa plant, as a response to the avoid predators. Animals, under the usual circumstances, do not consume the cocoa seeds. Even if some animals consume the cocoa pods, they dispose of the cocoa seed, despite their fat content, most likely due to the high amounts of theobromine.  

But, in chocolate, cocoa’s bitter flavour is partially or fully masked by the added sugar and fats. Hence the animals, especially the ones whose taste buds can detect sweetness, like dogs, have a tendency to consume them. Cats, on the other hand, due to absence of ability to detect sweetness, are not very prone to consuming chocolates accidently. 

Even in human beings, it can cause effects on consumption above a limit. The lethal dosage 50% (LD50), which happens to be the quantity that can kill 50% of the individuals of a particular species, in humans happens to be 1000mg/kg. At a consumption level of 0.8-1.5g/day, symptoms like sweating, headaches and trembling are observed. At 250mg/day, limited effects on the mood is observed. Along with human beings, rats and mices also have a good tolerance to theobromine, with the LD50 levels being 837 mg/kg and 1265 mg/kg respectively.

But, cats and dogs have comparatively lower quantities for LD50. The dogs drop down at the 300mg/kg level, while cats are at 200mg/kg. Hence, even a small amount of cocoa consumption can be harmful for them, especially for the smaller sized individuals. Also, the type of chocolate consumed is an important factor in the theobromine poisoning cases. The dark chocolate items contain a very high amount of theobromine concentration. In comparison to that, milk chocolate contains relatively smaller concentrations (10 times lesser than dark chocolate). Unsweetened cocoa powder is the most concentrated. 

The early symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, increased urination and mood swings.Dogs and cats digest theobromine slower than the human beings, and hence, are susceptible to succumbing to chocolate poisoning. Clinical symptoms of poisoning can last upto 72 hours. More severe symptoms include epilrptic seizures, internal bleeding and cardiac arrests. All these can lead to an eventual death.

If identified early, chocolate poisoning is treatable. Veterinarians treat these cases by inducing vomiting within two hours of ingestion, and by administering benzodiazepines for seizures. 

But whatever be the treatment, the ordeal is painful for the animals. And as the old saying goes around, “ Prevention is better than cure”. So, the least we can do for our beloved pets is to keep them safe from accidental consumption of harmful items.

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