The husband on
the other end of the phone sounded worried to death. "Doctor, I just took
to do his business, and I saw that his poop
has a lot of blood in it. Oh Doctor, he's all we have! What should we do?"
Orvie (Orville is his real name) is an extremely spoiled, three-year-old,
obese Pekingese whose owners live in the village. After calming the husband
I asked him about the color of the blood, how much there was, whether it
had any mucus, etc. He told me the feces was full of bright red blood. He
of this because it was early December, and the fresh snow on the ground created
a perfect contrast to the bloody stool.
Not good, I thought to
myself, and told him to bring Orvie and a sample of his poop in to the office
Just like in ourselves, rectal bleeding or bloody stools should never be
When the husband gave me the poop sample, a quick glance showed me there
were, indeed, flecks of bright red blood in it. Frank blood (in medicine,
red, fresh-looking blood is referred to as frank blood) usually indicates
a potentially serious problem that can range from a serious tear in the
bowel to rectal polyps or cancer.
On physical examination,
however, I could find
nothing at all wrong with Orvie. His little bulging Pekingese eyes
were bright, his coat was lustrous and shiny, and his heart rate sounded
his gums and mucous membranes were pink. This dispelled any fears I
had about serious internal bleeding. The digital rectal exam was also normal.
no idea what was going on, I asked to see the feces again.
I broke off a small chunk and examined the cut edge with a magnifying
glass. But this time, not only did I see the red flakes, I also saw
and silver ones as well. I chuckled briefly to myself; I'd seen this
Then, while forcing myself to suppress the urge to laugh (because
the owner was still quite anxious and worried), I looked up, and as
I could, I asked the owner if he or his wife were missing any chocolate
Slightly taken aback
by the question, he thought about it for a second. And as he did, a smile
of inner revelation overcame his worried countenance. "You
know, Doc," he said, "now that you mention it, my wife did say she
was missing a dish full of Kisses. She always buys a couple of bags for when
the grandkids come over. They look so nice in their Christmas holiday colors
sitting on the living room coffee table. Son of a gun, do you think Orvie ate
them?" Yes, I did, and he was very lucky. This time!
When I think about all of the emergency calls I get during all
hours of the day, one of the most common involves dogs eating
chocolate. From brownies
to chocolate fudge cake mixes, from Hershey's Kisses to imported
cherries, everyone wants to know, "Doc, can chocolate kill my dog?" The
answer is, yes, yes, yes. It can!
Chocolate contains a
methylxanthine compound called theobromine, which can be lethal to dogs.
(Another famous methylxanthine
compound we all know is caffeine.) Symptoms of theobromine
toxicity include vomiting, rapid breathing, stumbling and incoordination,
most famous of all, SUDDEN DEATH.
As I've said many times before, dogs (and cats) are not just
furry miniature people. Their body organs and metabolisms
are way different
A dog's inability to digest chocolate is a good example of
this difference. Our bodies
can eliminate the methylxanthine compounds in chocolate in
three to four hours; dogs can take up to eighteen to accomplish
this is that the longer these compounds stay in their bodies,
the more damage
that can be done.
The amounts of chocolate needed to cause serious harm varies
according to the size of the dog and the type of chocolate
ever done a controlled study to learn exactly how much
is needed to kill dogs, there is a large range of numbers with
to what is
is not lethal.
In my practice, I consider
the lethal dose of theobromine to be 50 mg per pound of dog. Milk chocolate
contains 45 mg
chocolate (unsweetened baking chocolate) can contain
up to 400 mg per ounce. For readers who may not be used to calculating
rule of thumb is: 2 oz. of sweet milk chocolate will
With pure chocolate (baker's chocolate), which again,
contains ten times
the amount of theobromine, the number I go by is: 5 oz.
kill a 45-pound dog.
If your dog consumes large amounts of chocolate, you
should call your veterinarian immediately. When people
thing I try
to determine is
whether or not the pet has consumed a potentially deadly
dose. If we decide the dog
did eat a lethal amount, or if the owner and I can't
come to a definite conclusion on the problem, the first
on getting the dog
Afterwards, I have them
bring the dog in to the office so that I can administer activated charcoal
theobromine as possible from the stomach and intestines. If the dog is showing
poisoning, I'll keep it in the hospital. Unfortunately,
if the symptoms have progressed too far, it can be
a real challenge
to save these
In closing, remember that timing is important. As
soon as you know or suspect your dog has eaten a
Copyright 2004 by Richard Orzeck, DVM.
in this article is based upon the author’s personal experiences, his opinions,
and his best interpretation of the data at the time of writing. It is not intended
to render veterinary advice or service. Specific needs and questions concerning
your pet’s health should always, always, always, be addressed by his or
her best friend, their local veterinarian.