The Dangers Of Chocolate And Xylitol Toxicity In Dogs And Cats


With the fall weather comes the beautiful parts of the season – carving pumpkins, apple pies, the changing of the leaves and the excitement of Halloween. With the hocus pocus, spooky ghosts and holiday fun also comes one of my favorite parts of all – the candy! It’s no surprise that our furry friends also find these sweet treats appealing, but for them, there are real dangers hiding behind the shiny wrappers.

Chocolate toxicity is a common problem we see this time of year in veterinary medicine, and we are going to go through what signs to look for in your pets, some tips and tricks for minimizing exposure for your pets, and helpful resources for owners to contact in the event of ingestion. At the end of this article, we will also highlight some major points about xylitol toxicity.

There is a significant variation in how your dog may respond to chocolate toxicity relative to other dogs. Smaller dogs and pre-existing conditions like liver, kidney, heart and neurologic disease may make your dog more susceptible to chocolate toxicity. Mild to moderate signs we look for in dogs are vomiting, increased urination, diarrhea and restlessness. Additional warning signs can include agitation, hyperactivity, ataxia (stumbling gait), increased heart rate, breathing faster, high temperature and high blood pressure. Severe toxicity may cause tremors, seizures, severe abnormal heart rhythms, coma and death, which is why identifying exposure and being as informed as possible is critical when contacting an animal poison control center.

Tips And Tricks For Owners

  • Know what type of candy/chocolate you have in your home. The amount of methylxanthine/theobromine (the ingredients in chocolate that are harmful to pets) vary significantly between types of chocolate products. For example, it is much higher in unsweetened (dark) baking chocolate than milk chocolate. If you need to contact an animal poison control center, the staff will ask what type of chocolate your pet consumed and if you can estimate how much.
  • Keep all candy/chocolate in closed containers in high cabinets or pantries that can lock. Many dogs are skilled at opening low cabinet doors, opening pantry doors, and especially getting into the trash!
  • Talk to members of your family about what signs to look for in your pets and the next steps in case your pet were to get into some chocolate/candy. We recommend contacting an animal poison control center and also your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Helpful Links/Resources For Owners

  • ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426 4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline: 800-213-6680
  • Chocolate Toxicity In Dogs

  • Chocolate Toxicity Signs In Dogs

Xyla—what? Xylitol!

Xylitol is a sugar substitute compound that has become more popular in today’s market and is found in products like sugarless gum, toothpaste and certain brands of peanut butter. Your dog’s normal response to sugar intake is the same as in the human body – ingestion of sugar leads to release of insulin to help move that sugar into the tissues to be used for energy. The problem with Xylitol is that we can see an increased release of insulin (three to seven times greater) in dogs, leading to severely low blood sugar. Signs can include vomiting, tremors, incoordination, collapse, and seizures within 30 minutes – 12 hours of ingestion. Unfortunately, Xylitol ingestion in dogs can be a two-part problem as the liver becomes affected, leading to acute liver failure, bleeding and clotting problems. If you suspect your dog has ingested Xylitol, contact your veterinarian and poison control center immediately to learn the next steps and have your pet evaluated.

Helpful Links/Resources For Owners

In regards to chocolate and Xylitol toxicity for your pets, the best medicine is preventative medicine. Staying informed and limiting your pet’s risk of ingestion will help make this fall season safe and enjoyable for everyone in the family, including your canine and feline companions. The veterinarians and staff at VCA Calvert Center thank you for your time and dedication to the care of your pets, and they are available by phone or email if you have additional questions or concerns. We wish everyone a season of safe and happy memories during these times!

The veterinarians of VCA Calvert Veterinary Center have over 35 years of combined experience helping pets stay healthy and happy. For more information about how to care for your exotic pet, call today for an appointment at 410-360-PAWS or schedule online at VCA Calvert Veterinary Center is conveniently located at 4100 Mountain Road and has been proudly serving the Pasadena community for over 16 years.


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