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Keep Dog and Cats Away from Sweet Treats this Halloween

By Rolanda Ware on This Dish is Veg October, 2010

Halloween is quickly approaching and for most children that means trick-or-treating and eating lots of candy. Pet owners though, are being warned to keep their four-legged family members firmly away from the sweet treats, especially chocolate, as it is extremely toxic to animals.

Susan Nelson, assistant professor of clinical services at Kansas State University, says chocolate consumption can be hazardous to the health of many animals including dogs, cats, ferrets, birds and rats.

"Chocolate contains large amounts of methylxanthines," said Nelson. "Theobromine and caffeine are methylxanthines that are found in chocolate. It is theobromine that causes the majority of symptoms in pets."

Pets may display the following symptoms after ingesting a small amount of chocolate: vomiting, diarrhea and excessive thirst and urination. In cases of larger amounts symptoms become more severe and could lead to irregular heartbeats, tremors, seizures and possibly death.

"Symptoms typically occur within 12 hours of ingestion," explained Nelson. "Unlike people, dogs take much longer to clear theobromine from their bodies, which leads to the formation of toxic levels."

Different types of chocolate can vary in the concentration level of theobromine, according to Nelson. Baking chocolate contains the most theobromine, white chocolate contains the least, and semisweet and milk chocolate contain a medium amount. The bottom line, the darker the chocolate, the more concentrated it is - and the smaller the lethal dose.

"Chocolate consumption is a very common problem amongst pets, dogs especially," Nelson said. "It is important to recognize that individual reactions vary by pets, but it is best to assume your pet is one of the sensitive ones and not delay in seeking advice from your veterinarian. Be aware of the chocolate sources in your house, and tell any new dog owner about this potential threat to their pet."

Halloween can be a stressful time for animals. Owners are advised to confine pets during parties or family gatherings. It's best to place them in a secluded room away from the noise and activity of the trick-or-treaters and away from situations that could accidentally lead to ingestion of toxic foods.

If a household pet consumes a large quantity of chocolate owners should call a veterinarian immediately.