Advice on Pet Safety from Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, DVM of Animal Planet's Emergency Vets

Advice from Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, DVM of Animal Planet's Emergency Vets

Now you can read advice by Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a veterinarian at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado. You've probably seen Dr. Kevin on Animal Planet's Emergency Vets.

Dr. Kevin was one of the medical advisors during the production of our award-winning pet first aid videos. Because of his close association with us, he is presenting an ongoing series of online columns that will help you help your dog or cat.


Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Each holiday season, veterinarians witness an increase in accidental chocolate poisoning in dogs. The majority of pet owners do not realize the potential for intoxication that chocolate possesses.

Theobromine, caffeine and theophylline are all naturally occurring molecules that are found in several foods, plants, beverages and human and veterinary medications.

Based on the number of calls received by The National Animal Poison Control Center and the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, one of the most commonly encountered poisonings in pet dogs is theobromine, or chocolate, poisoning.

Theobromine comes from the plant Theobroma cocoa and is present in chocolate, cocoa beans, cocoa bean hulls, cola and tea.

Milk chocolate is obtained from seeds of theobroma cacao after fermentation and roasting. Milk chocolate has about 44 mg/ounce of theobromine; a 4.5 oz. milk chocolate bar has about 240 mgs. of theobromine. Unsweetened baking chocolate has even more -- about 390 to 450 mgs of theobromine per ounce.

Relative theobromine content per ounce for various products is:

  • Milk chocolate: 44 - 60 mgs/ounce
  • Unsweetened baking chocolate: 450 mg/oz
  • Cacao meal: 300 - 900 mg/oz
  • Cacao beans: 300 - 1200 mg/oz
  • Hot chocolate: 13 mg/oz

The lethal dosage of theobromine in dogs is between 250 and 500 mgs/kg, or about 2/3 to 1 1/3 of baking chocolate for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. However, serious non-fatal poisonings have been reported in dogs after eating smaller amounts.

At our practice, a 20-pound dachshund showed serious signs of poisoning after eating 3/4 of a pound of milk chocolate and another 22-pound dog died after eating two pounds of baking chocolate.

Deaths due to theobromine have been documented in horses who ate cocoa bean hulls used in bedding and in other livestock fed cocoa waste products. No chocolate poisonings have been reported in cats, which is probably a reflection of their eating habits.

The the first signs of chocolate poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea, increased urination and nausea. These can progress to cardiac arrhythmias and seizures.

Dogs definitely have a sweet tooth. Dog-proof for home to keep your dog safe. Milk chocolate should never be given to your pet and it should be kept well out of reach. Unsweetened baking chocolate should be kept in closed containers in upper, latched cupboards.

If your dog eats potentially dangerous amounts of chocolate and you can get the pet to your vet within two hours, vomiting can be induced to remove the poison. If longer than two hours has passed, the animal may need to be seen and treated.

Direct any questions you may have to your veterinarian, regional poison control center, or the National Animal Poison Information Center at The University of Illinois in Urbana which provides computer-supported telephone consultation for potential poisonings. http://www.napcc.aspca.org or call the toll free number 888-426-4435

It is our responsibility to keep our animals safe. Protect your dogs from their own sweet tooth. Occasional treats are okay, but keep your dog away from candy bars.

Spider Bites in Pets

Spiders are all around us. At least 35,000 species have been recognized with new ones being discovered all the time. Some experts believe the true number of spider species is close to 100,000.

Approximately 20,000 species of spiders are found in the United States. Luckily, only about 50 of these species have fangs that can penetrate human or animal skin. All spiders (except for two families) are poisonous, but not all possess biting mouth parts able to deliver the venom and in others the venom is very weak.

In North America, the two spiders capable of inflicting bites for which patients most commonly seek medical treatment are the black widow (five species of lactro deitus found in the U.S.) and the brown recluse (loxosceles species). The brown recluse spider is found in the southern half of the U.S. These spiders are notorious for the local tissue damage resulting from their bites. The brown recluse can be distinguished by the violin-shaped marking on their backs with the neck of the violin pointing to their abdomen.

Adult female black widows have a reddish-orange hourglass on the underside of their abdomen.

Recluse bites are known for potent venom with a prolonged ulcerative effect. The poison injected is rich in digestive enzymes that produce a skin ulcer that can continue to grow long after the initial bite. The lesion can be active for months and be disfiguring and become secondarily infected. Any suspicious lesions should be examined immediately by your veterinarian.

Occasionally, other spiders are involved in bites, but most often other causes are the culprits and spiders are blamed. Other things that should be considered are abscesses, other anthropod bites (bees, wasps, hornets), allergies, tumors, cat fight wounds and bad teeth.

Find out what spiders live in your area. If you see a spider bite your pet, capture it, if possible, for identification. Keep the closest emergency veterinary hospital and poison control center phone numbers handy. Contact them at the first sign of trouble.

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