Like other Labrador Retrievers, Lucy’s devotion to her family is unwavering and her boundless joy, immeasurable. Seven-year-old Lucy may be petite in size but compensates for it with her bigger-than-life personality.
Her owner, Anna, uses one word to describe Lucy: Rambunctious.
While she is indeed a loving dog, if Lucy can do some counter surfing when her family isn’t watching, she’ll have a go at it.
Knowing Lucy the way her family does, they always have taken great care in putting away items that their dog could get into. But despite the best of intentions, there have been instances when Lucy somehow outsmarted them.
One such occasion occurred last winter. Lucy ripped through a pairing gift box of wine and chocolates.
“I thought I had strategically hidden away the gifts, but apparently I hadn’t stored them high enough,” said Anna, who works as the marketing manager for California Veterinary Specialists.
According to Anna, her husband returned home from work one December afternoon and let the dogs out. At that point, he didn’t notice the chocolate wrappers but did recognize how Lucy’s energy was ramped up.
“Initially, my husband thought it was because the temperatures had dropped and it was cooler outside which made her so happy and energetic,” Anna said.
Anna’s husband then changed into his workout clothes. Before leaving for the gym, he noticed a torn up gift box and wrappers on the floor which he cleaned up but seeing that Lucy seemed her same enthusiastic self-other than an elevated energy level, he thought she was okay.
When Anna’s husband returned home from the gym about an hour-and-a-half later, he immediately noticed the change in her behavior.
Lucy was now lethargic, seeking the cold concrete to lie upon outside, and lay still when called.
That’s when Anna got the call from her husband that he was immediately bringing Lucy to CVS.
From the evidence, Anna concluded that Lucy consumed the entire package of the 12 ounces of dark chocolate. Lucy was showing signs of chocolate toxicity, so medical intervention at CVS began immediately with vomiting induced with repeated doses of activated charcoal, continuous heart, and seizure/tremor monitoring and IV fluids. Lucy was incredibly lucky with no seizures, tremors, or cardiac arrhythmias observed during her overnight stay.
Other than being exhausted, Lucy bounced back to her normal, rambunctious self a few days later.
So why is chocolate toxic to dogs?
According to Dr. Kim Boyle, emergency and critical care specialist at CVS, the active agent that causes toxicity for dogs that ingest chocolate is theobromine.
“Theobromine stimulates the central nervous system, increasing stress hormones in the body, such as epinephrine,” shared Dr. Boyle, noting how this can cause a hyper-excitable and restless side effect.
Increases in calcium can also occur which can result in muscle tremors.
“The intoxication of chocolate primarily affects the neurologic and the cardiac system,” Dr. Boyle said. “Chocolate can be fatal if the dose ingested is severe enough or if it’s not addressed.”
Dr. Boyle also pointed out that the amount of theobromine differs with various chocolates. For example, trace amounts are present in white chocolate, and they gradually increase higher as the chocolate darkens in color from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate is, the higher the concentration of Theobromine and therefore the greater the potential is for toxicity.
Elevated levels of theobromine are also in baking chocolate, dry cocoa powder or even cocoa beans. If something has chocolate in it, such as baking mix, theobromine is present.
When patients are brought to CVS for chocolate poisoning, the medical team works in precision.
“If the patient is asymptomatic at that point or even mildly symptomatic, and the chocolate ingestion has been recent, the very first thing we’re going to do is induce vomiting,” Dr. Boyle said.
If the patient ingested the chocolate a few hours or more upon their arrival and the clinical signs are profound, the medical team might avoid the induction of vomiting due to the risk of aspiration.
“In cases such as this, we will treat the patient with fluid therapy and GI supportive care, if needed,” Dr. Boyle explained.
Beta blockers can also be administered in the event of a very elevated heart rate and blood pressure to counteract these issues.
Dr. Boyle wants everyone to know that chocolate poisoning in dogs just doesn’t happen over the holidays. While there is more frequency of visits during certain times of the year, treatment for chocolate ingestion is something they treat all year round.
“Please take that extra precaution when storing away chocolates or other items which could be harmful inside a cupboard or behind a closed door to keep pets safe,” Dr. Boyle shared.
Since Lucy’s incident, Anna said her family’s level awareness has become even more heightened. Any food item, but particularly chocolate, is put up high in a closed cabinet and any presents were containing food or candy are stored high on a shelf behind a closed door. By sharing Lucy’s story, Anna hopes that she can help those with beloved pets stay healthy.