How Candy Can Kill Your Pet

Easter is the holiday most associated with candy. According to the National Confectioner’s Association, Americans purchase more candy at Easter than at any other holiday,surpassing even Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

Over 75% of Americans make an Easter basket each year. Bunnies made out of chocolate are the most popular Easter candy. In 2018, Americans spent $935 million on chocolate, purchasing over 100 million chocolate bunnies.

It’s traditional to hide colored eggs and chocolates in preparation for a Sunday morning Easter Egg Hunt. While toddlers wander about in the spring sunshine, their older siblings and cousins dash past them. Their goal? Finding brightly colored eggs lurking under bushes, hidden along hedges, tucked into tufts of grass, and nestled behind flower pots.

Easter Egg hunts are fun for little ones and entertaining for older adults. Unfortunately, the chocolate bunnies and other treats nestled in Easter baskets can be dangerous to our pets. Chocolate smells wonderful to dogs. They seek it out and eat it with enthusiasm.

Cats rarely eat enough chocolate to cause them harm. In contrast, most dogs will eat any chocolate that they can smell and find, even entire bags of candy containing chocolate. For small dogs, this can be enough to cause poisoning and death.

Why is chocolate so dangerous to our pets?

One of the compounds found naturally in chocolate is theobromine. Theobromine is closely related to caffeine. If enough of it were concentrated in a capsule or tablet, it would have a similar effect, increasing your energy level and mental focus.

Theobromine is found in all parts of the cacao bean. The hard outer cacao shells, which are removed during processing, and the delicious inner beans used to make HersheyÆ kisses, DoveÆ bars and chocolate bunnies all contain theobromine.

The danger to animals wasn’t realized until someone started recycling the discarded cacao beans' shells by adding them to animal feed. Suddenly, baby ducks, chicks, baby goats, and young calves were dying, all with similar symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, and seizures, followed by collapse and death. These tragic deaths were eventually traced to animal feeds that contained recycled cacao shells.

How much chocolate is dangerous to your pet? The smaller your dog is, the less it takes for them to be poisoned. The more concentrated the chocolate, the more theobromine it will contain and the more danger your pet will be in.

In general, the darker the chocolate, the more poisonous it is to a pet. A small, 6-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips has enough theobromine to kill an 18-pound dog. Baking chocolate squares are particularly dark and potent, with 2 squares enough to make a 50-lb dog sick or kill a 20-lb dog.

Puppies and elderly dogs seem to be more affected by theobromine, so it takes even less chocolate for them to be poisoned.

If chocolate is so dangerous to our pets, could toddlers and small children be at risk, too? Thankfully, NO, because our human bodies are very good at detoxifying theobromine. Humans and animals have particular proteins called enzymes which are designed to break down and detoxify compounds like theobromine. In humans, these special enzymes work twice as fast as the ones in dogs, cats, and other animals.

Despite christening chocolate-rich cake and dessert recipes Death by Chocolate, it’s pretty much impossible for humans, no matter how small, to die from eating chocolate.

5 Tips on How to Protect Your Pet from Poisoning from Candy

1.The darker the chocolate is, the more dangerous it is.

Be especially vigilant about keeping dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips out of reach. One small 8-ounce bag of Toll-House chocolate chips is a FATAL dose for a 20-lb dog.

2.Size matters:

How much chocolate it takes to poison a dog depends on their size, with small dogs especially at risk. What a black lab can get away with ingesting can be fatal to a Yorkie or Shih Tzu.

3.Avoid repeat ingestions.

Multiple incidents of eating chocolate close together are dangerous even to big dogs because they detoxify chocolate a little at a time. Another ingestion within 24 hours can turn a harmless incident into a painful death.

4.White chocolate is nearly as dangerous.

White chocolate is also a danger because of its high-fat content. Dogs seek it out because it smells like chocolate. Fat from white chocolate can trigger a painful and fatal condition in dogs called pancreatitis.

5.Find out more.

You can find more information about foods dangerous to your pets online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.

Dr. Louise Achey, Doctor of Pharmacy, is a 40-year veteran of pharmacology and author of Why Dogs Can’t Eat Chocolate: How Medicines Work and How YOU Can Take Them Safely. Get clear answers to your medication questions at her website and blog TheMedicationInsider.com.

®2021 Louise Achey

 

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