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A close friend of mine recently lost her small dog after it ate a whole bar of chocolate. I have four dogs and live quite a distance from my nearest out-of-hours veterinary clinic. Are there any first-aid measures I can take if I suspect one of my dogs has eaten any chocolate? I would also be interested to know if there are any homoeopathic remedies that might help while I’m on my way to the vet. Thank you.

Tim Couzens advises…

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs because it contains a compound known as theobromine, which is related to caffeine. Essentially, it is a stimulant that can cause a variety of signs of toxicity, which will vary with the type of chocolate eaten, the quantity eaten, and the body weight of the dog. The most common signs include vomiting (which may contain blood), diarrhoea, increased urination, restlessness, hyperactivity and anxiety, trembling, twitching muscles and epileptic fits, the inability to walk properly (called ataxia), and finally a notable increase in the rate of breathing and the heart rate. Ultimately, the symptoms can prove fatal.

White chocolate contains hardly any theobromine, so is generally not a problem. Milk chocolate, however, is poisonous at a rate of around 14g per kg of body weight, and dark chocolate is the most toxic, with only around 3.5g of chocolate per kg of body weight causing obvious signs of illness. Cooking chocolate contains even higher levels of theobromine and is extremely poisonous, as is cocoa powder. If you suspect that your dog has eaten any dark or milk chocolate, you should seek help as soon as possible to be on the safe side, bearing in mind that it can take anything from four to 24 hours for clear signs of poisoning to develop.

Initially, your vet may tell you how to induce your dog to vomit so that the chocolate still in the stomach is brought back up before you start your journey to them. Be sure to take any chocolate wrappers with you so the vet will have an idea of how much has been eaten and what type of chocolate it was. There are two homoeopathic remedies that can provide interim homoeopathic support. I would suggest using Nux vomica 30c and Belladonna 30c, given together every 10 minutes until you arrive at the surgery.

The best plan of action, of course, is to avoid temptation, and keep all chocolate and products containing chocolate well out of your dogs’ reach.

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