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Why Is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

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Puppy image via Shutterstock

I grew up with a series of dogs that were shameless food moochers. Max, our German Shepherd-Black Lab mix, was once left on his own in the house while the humans were having a backyard cookout. Poor Aunt Sophie went in to get something from the kitchen and found Max standing on the kitchen table, working his way in a circle around the top of her homemade bundt cake. Needless to say, the utmost precaution had to be taken with certain foods the dogs couldn’t have. Chocolate bars were transported under the cover of darkness and consumed only when a room had been cleared and locked down.

Why the trouble? Chocolate is toxic to dogs and a number of other animals because it contains alkaloid chemicals called methylxanthines - namely, theobromine (3,7-dimethylxanthine) and caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine). Both of these stimulate the nervous and cardiovascular systems. It’s an effect that humans seek out, and we can get away with it because we metabolize the chemicals relatively quickly. Other animals process them more slowly, so the effects are more pronounced.

If a dog eats too much theobromine and caffeine, they’ll start to show a number of symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, muscle spasms, excessive panting, hyperactive behavior, seizures and dehydration. They may become hyperthermic, go into respiratory failure or experience cardiac arrhythmia, all of which can cause death.

So, how much chocolate is too much for a dog? Depends on the size of the dog, and the kind of chocolate. The amount of methylxanthines in chocolate varies among different chocolate products and brands. In general, though, dry cocoa powder has the most, with around 800 milligrams per ounce, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate (~450 mg/oz), semisweet and sweet dark chocolate (~150-160 mg/oz) and milk chocolate (~64 mg/oz) follow.

Based on their experience and research, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center considers 100 to 200 milligrams of methylxanthines per kilogram of dog to be a lethal dose. Mild symptoms can happen with doses as small as 20 mg/kg and severe symptoms, including seizures, can happen at 40-60 mg/kg. Given those numbers, as little as four ounces of dark chocolate could cause problems for a average-sized, 60lb Labrador Retriever, America’s most popular breed. How much chocolate can your dog handle before trouble starts? National Geographic has a handy calculator to figure out the amount based on your dog’s weight and the type of chocolate.

If a dog does eat a toxic dose of chocolate, there’s not much that can be done for it outside of a vet’s office if the methylxanthines make it into the dog’s bloodstream and start circulating through the body. In her book, Help!: The Quick Guide to First Aid for Your Dog, veterinarian Michelle Bamberger recommends slowing or stopping this process by the body by trying to make the dog vomit. Don’t try sticking your fingers down its throat, though. Instead, feed it a small dose (a teaspoon) of hydrogen peroxide or table salt. Your vet can handle things from there, and treatment usually involves giving the dog activated charcoal to bind to the toxins and using intravenous fluid therapy to flush them out.

Methylxanthines in chocolate are toxic for other animals, too. Cats are especially susceptible because of their small size. Luckily for them, cats lack the taste receptors that pick up “sweet” tastes, and rarely have much motivation for eating more than a nibble or two of chocolate. Both horses and humans are less susceptible to chocolate toxicity thanks to their size and faster metabolization of the chemicals. Methylxanthine poisoning can still happen to people who consume large amounts of chocolate or coffee in a small timeframe, though, and the amount of caffeine in a strong cup of coffee is enough to cause symptoms in a small child.

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Animals
The Real Story Behind Frida, The Rescue Dog in Mexico Gaining Viral Fame

On Tuesday, September 19, a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the center of Mexico. Three days later, rescue workers are still searching for survivors, and among the humans digging through the rubble is a four-legged helper named Frida.

Frida the rescue dog, named after Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, has offered a ray of positivity to people around the world following the devastating news that’s come out of Mexico this week. As a starring member of the Mexican Navy’s Canine Unit, it’s her job to sniff out people trapped by natural disasters, all while wearing goggles, booties, and a harness to keep her safe from debris. The 7-year-old lab has detected 52 people throughout her career, 12 of whom were found alive and successfully rescued, according the Los Angeles Times.

Since the Mexican Navy shared a collage of the rescue dog last week on Twitter, Frida has been declared a hero by the internet. She’s been featured on numerous websites and was the subject of one tweet that has received more than 50,000 likes. But while Frida is doing important, life-saving work that’s every bit worthy of praise, some of the information surrounding her is inaccurate.

Several outlets have misreported that the rescue dog has saved 52 lives following Mexico's earthquake, while in reality 52 is the total number of people she has located, dead or alive.

Fortunately the viral confusion doesn’t make her story any less inspiring. Frida is an invaluable member of her team, often crawling into spaces that humans can’t reach. Like the rest of the rescue workers responding to this week’s earthquake, Frida is a hero to the victims and their loved ones.

For a closer look at how she’s able to pull off such incredible work, check her out in the canine training video below.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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Health
CDC Traces Infectious Disease Outbreak in Seven States to Pet-Store Puppies
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Campylobacter bacteria have infected 39 people in seven states, and puppies sold at one chain of pet stores in Ohio are likely to blame. As NPR reports, a federal investigation is currently underway as to the exact cause of the outbreak of the intestinal infection.

The symptoms of Campylobacter include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in rare cases it can lead to death in victims with weakened immune systems. About 1.3 million people fall ill to it each year, but the bacteria can also infect animals like dogs.

Of those hit by the latest outbreak, 12 are employees of the national chain Petland in four states, according to the CDC. The other 27 have either bought a puppy from a Petland store recently or live with or visited someone who has. Eighteen cases have been reported in Ohio, and the rest have appeared in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. While no deaths have been reported, nine victims have been hospitalized.

Puppies, like humans babies, are more likely to get sick than full-grown dogs, which may explain how the Petland animals caught the illness in the first place. But even apparently healthy adult dogs may be harboring the bacteria and spreading it through their feces. To avoid catching it from your canine companion at home, the CDC recommends washing your hands whenever you make physical contact. This also applies when handling their food and especially when picking up and throwing away their poop (with disposable gloves of course).

For the small percentage of people who do contract the infection each year, the best course of action is to wait it out if you're healthy otherwise: Symptoms take about a week to clear up.

[h/t NPR]

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