Good news, bad news, and some potentially life-saving info in this episode of The Buzby Dog Podcast. Dr. Buzby shares the story of her sister’s dog, Banjo, and an empty bag of chocolate chips. After explaining Banjo’s adventure (which included an overnight stay at the emergency hospital), Dr. Buzby details what to do if _your_ dog consumes chocolate.
She also talks about the root issue: why chocolate is potentially deadly for dogs but merely dangerous to human waistlines.
Visit https://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity to view a chocolate toxicity calculator, and save this number on your fridge for emergencies:
The ASPCA Poison Control: (888) 426-4435
Please watch this space for the next iteration of The Buzby Dog Podcast! And in the meantime, make sure to take advantage of the resources that are posted at https://toegrips.com/blog.
Welcome to the Dr. Buzby Dog podcast, where our passion and focus is proactive care and longer, healthier, happier lives for our dogs. Here’s your host integrative veterinarian, Dr. Julie Buzby.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (00:33)
Welcome to this week’s episode of the Buzby Dog podcast filled with both good news and bad news. So please stay tuned until the end for a special announcement. I realize I’ve really never been on the other end of the stethoscope recently when I went with my sister on the night after Thanksgiving to the emergency room for her dog. There we sat in the waiting room at the veterinarian emergency and critical care center. I sat next to my poor sister who was just fraught with worry and mom guilt because her beloved dog and I mean, beloved, dog Banjo was in the back after eating half a pound of chocolate chips. Banjo is whom I really joke, her favorite child. She has three human children too but Banjo had gotten into the chocolate while we were away for the day. He had been home alone at my mom’s house.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (01:24)
We had both traveled to visit her for the holiday and Carrie thought she’d put all the food out of reach before we’d set off early that morning to take our kids, the group of cousins to the zoo. Apparently, however, we missed a big bag full of snacks on the floor that was in a corner and Banjo who was accustomed to entertaining himself by napping during the day had been alone for about six hours. Now, Carrie would tell you that Banjo is perfect without any vice, but he succumbed to a temptation that many of us have. (I should have included that Banjo really loves food and sometimes he just can’t help himself.) So we walked through the door after, again, being gone about six hours and I heard Carrie’s husband say, uh, oh, this can’t be good. And he held up exhibit “A,” an empty chocolate chip bag.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (02:12)
That looked as though it had been licked clean, which in fact it had, he handed me the bag and I read the label. Was it milk chocolate, white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate? It would make a big difference in how I reacted. We also needed to know how full the bag had been to begin with. Carrie came in behind us and immediately realized the gravity of the situation. And I’m not sure if this was because of the empty bag of chocolate chips or the look on my face. The bag was half full, she guessed. And I said, okay. She realized that her dog’s life could depend on her answer. And so she said, I don’t know, I’m thinking it was half full, but I’m not positive, maybe a little more so six to eight ounces.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (02:57)
At that point, I went upstairs to my computer to triage Banjo. That might seem odd because I walked out of the room with a dog, but I needed to punch the data into a chocolate toxicity calculator. This is a handy resource that I’m making available to you. We’ll have the link in the show notes for this podcast. And it’s a really good thing to experiment with and understand today so that if you ever have to use it in a crisis, you’d be able to do so quickly and confidently. You need three pieces of information, the dog’s, weight, and Banjo weighed about 44 pounds, the type of chocolate consumed. So milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate bakers, chocolate, white chocolate. And then finally, how much chocolate the dog ate, in ounces. Believe it or not, different types of chocolate have differing levels of toxicity with the rule of thumb, being that the darker and more bitter the chocolate.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (03:51)
So the less sweet the chocolate, then the more toxic it is for dogs. So Baker’s chocolate is the absolute worst and semi sweet chocolate. A can of dark chocolate is right up there behind it. And in the calculator, six ounces for Banjo yielded this message tremors and seizures, ER, treatment needed! I was using this calculator on a website for veterinarians only, and it featured a little animated dog on the screen depicting how the toxin would react in the patient in question. So based on the numbers I typed in the cartoon dog began shaking and his eyes looked like he just stepped off the scrambler at an amusement park. Then I re-ran the calculations for eight ounces of ingestion and things got much worse when I did that. The animated dog fell over on his back with all four feet in the air and potential death flashed on the screen.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (04:45)
So clearly we had a veterinarian emergency on our hand. We were hours away from both my practice and Banjo’s, regular veterinarian, and we needed a veterinarian now, and time mattered. When we’d walked into the door from the zoo, Banjo had looked fine. So just to clarify, the patient at this point looks great. He was wagging his tail. His eyes were smiling and he was happy to greet us, but just as potential death appeared on my computer screen, I heard my four year old say, mom, I stepped in something. And I knew that couldn’t be good. I would expect both vomiting and diarrhea from a dog poisoned by chocolate and Banjo had delivered. I walked into the hallway and there was a dark brown liquified mess on the carpet with my son’s foot planted in the center. At this point, I wasn’t sure if it was vomit or diarrhea.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (05:33)
We later discovered after the home team cleaned that up as well as three other piles that they’d found that indeed it was vomit. And this was actually in Banjo’s favor because his system had kicked out a lot of the toxin, less to be digested and absorbed. Now, the other thing that happened while I was upstairs on the toxicity calculator was that my nephew interrupted me to announce Banjo’s hind legs are shaking. I had packed my stethoscope for our Thanksgiving road trip. I always try to take a first aid kit. So I dug it out and listened to Banjo’s heart. And I knew that two other things we were watching for at this point would be an elevated heart rate and an abnormal heart rhythm called an arrhythmia. But at this point, his heart rate and rhythm were both normal. So two wins. I was excited.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (06:16)
I wasn’t excited. I was just trying to manage moment by moment and get us to the emergency hospital as quickly as possible. It was five o’clock on a Friday night. So even though there were local practices that had not yet closed, the best course of action for Banjo was to go to a 24 hour emergency facility, virtually always general practices close in the evening. And the animals are left unattended overnight. This is definitely a downside of veterinary practice. Trust me, we don’t need our clients to point it out as veterinarians. We are not happy about this, but financially there’s just not a way around it. It’s just not possible for practices to be staffed 24/7. And this, the beauty of that 24/7 veterinary critical care center, they’re there to allow for that contingency for dogs that are ill and need to be transferred for overnight care, or for emergencies that happen when a regular veterinarian would be closed.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (07:11)
God bless ’em for working Christmas, Thanksgiving, and every night, all through the night, seven days a week. So Banjo was definitely going to need overnight monitoring and treatment. So we took the journey. It was about 40 minutes away to the emergency facility and it was fantastic. We walked in the door, my sister filled out the obligatory paperwork and the receptionist took Banjo back immediately and said, I want to get him back to the vet in case they want to make him vomit right away. And though he’d already vomited four times getting as much out of his system as quickly as possible was goal number one. Induction of vomiting is really the standard of care. Even if ingestion was eight hours prior, and I’ve heard even up to 12 later, the emergency vet came out to meet us and reported that Banjo was exhibiting signs of central nervous system excitability, as we would expect with chocolate toxicity.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (08:02)
So he was all, you know, just hyperactive. His tremors had gotten worse and his heart rate had climbed to 250 beats per minute. Now, granted, when dogs get excited like arriving at the emergency hospital, their heart rates do go up, but 250 beats per minute is a really high heart rate for an adult, larger breed dog. If you’re interested in vital signs and what’s normal for your dog, this is a good place to mention that we have a podcast on that and a great infographic that you can find on our website, toegrips.com by searching in the search bar on the right sidebar. So the vet informed us, they had indeed induced vomiting and the plan was to keep Banjo overnight on IV fluids, give him a sedative to help him relax and a medication to lower his heart rate called propranolol. After hearing this, my sister said with wide eyes, “Oh, this sounds much worse than what we thought.”
Dr. Julie Buzby: (08:56)
And I interrupted. I said, well, hang on a second. I think there’s still a good prognosis with appropriate treatment. Again, prognosis, we’ve talked about it in previous podcasts. It’s that expected outcome. You know, where are we expecting this to head? And I looked at the vet kind of expectedly for backup. So she gave the standard opening disclaimers, said, I can never make a guarantee. But then she went on to say, I’ve never seen a dog die from chocolate toxicity. She said, we’ll, keep him overnight. And I’ll call you in the morning with an update, or certainly if anything changes. And they did such a fantastic job. I was so pleased with how everything went for Banjo. And my sister felt reassured at their professionalism and the care that he would be getting.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (09:38)
The consult was over. And I said to my sister, do you want to say goodbye to Banjo? And I looked at the vet and said, would it be okay? And she looked at me like, oh lady, you must not be real, you must have lied to me. When you told me you, you were a veterinarian because no vet in their right mind would say that. And here’s why the issue is this. Now the dog is settled. He’s in the back. He’s getting his treatments probably hooked up to an IV already at that point. And when the owner comes back, the dog gets all excited, all hyped up again. And then eventually the owner leaves and the dog has to go through the process of settling in a second time. But I think somewhere deep in the subconscious of my mind, I thought, what if there is a possibility that Banjo doesn’t make it?
Dr. Julie Buzby: (10:19)
And I knew my sister would never, ever, ever forgive herself for not saying goodbye. So I just blurted out the suggestion without really thinking it through. But my sister calmly said, well, wouldn’t that get him all worked up? I’m okay not saying goodbye, because I think it’s better for him. And that was, that was really unconditional love on her part. Choosing what she felt was better for Banjo at her own sacrifice, the sacrifice of her heart. So Carrie called to check in on Banjo later that night and all was well. And then she got a call early the next morning that he was doing well enough to go home. His heart rate had actually been quite stable over overnight. So Banjo came home to a lot of fanfare from his family, our family, and then slept the rest of the morning until my sister was ready to head out that day.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (11:03)
If it weren’t for a shaved forearm where his IV catheter had been and a little shaved hind paw, where his blood pressure had been monitored, you would honestly never know anything had happened. Although I’ve read that It can take up to four days for chocolate to completely clear the system for a dog in a toxicity like this. So thankfully Banjo’s story had some good news. Banjo’s story has a happy ending, but not all do. And this is some bad news. I know of two colleagues who’ve lost patients to chocolate toxicity, but in both cases, there was a big lag between when the dog ingested the chocolate and the onset of treatment. Now, the other thing I want to mention is that because of the high fat content in chocolate, dogs can develop a pain, it’s very painful and life threatening condition called, pancreatitis even days after the initial ingestion of the chocolate.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (11:53)
So even if they get through the woods of the chocolate toxicity, they’re still the risk of pancreatitis developing. So why is chocolate fine for people and not for dogs you might ask? Well, it turns out the chocolate contains something called theobromine and caffeine substances called methylxanthines, dogs are just more sensitive to them than people. We metabolize them differently. And so they are just more likely to cause toxicity in dogs. And as I said before, the darker, the chocolate, the more bitter, the chocolate, the greater the danger. So for example, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine than milk chocolate. I’m going leave you with one phone number that I think every pet owner should have on their refrigerator and on their speed dial. And that’s the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, phone number it’s (888) 426-4435 that’s 888-426-4435. The chocolate toxicity calculator is a really valuable gauge of severity.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (12:52)
But if your pet is ever exposed to a toxin, whether it be a food like grapes or onions or chocolate, or some sort of household toxin like antifreeze or your prescription medications, and your veterinarian is not open for consult, then you cannot go wrong calling the animal poison control center. They are fabulous. There are board-certified veterinarians who specialize in toxicology who are available 24/7/365 days a year. It’s a really great service. There is a fee involved, but it’s the best money you can spend in that type of emergency to get really accurate and realtime facts on your dog’. You know how serious the emergency is for your dog. And remember anytime your dog ingests a toxin, it’s always going to be less expensive for you and less dangerous for your dog to triage and treat early. So call someone right away. If you suspect that your dog’s ingested something. In this case, I think our swift action might have saved Banjo’s life.
Dr. Julie Buzby: (13:51)
And now a little more good and bad news. We talked about bittersweet chocolate. I have just a bittersweet bit of news, and that is that we’re taking a season break from the Buzby Dog podcast. We’re wrapping this up for now, but we look forward to bringing you more great audio content in the future. And the good news. In the meantime, please take advantage of all of our resources at toegrips.com. That’s toegrips.com. We have a blog there called the Buzby Bark that will continue to put out weekly content with valuable information to help your dog live the longest happiest, healthiest life possible. Thank you for being a faithful listener. God bless you and your dog.
Speaker 3: (14:38)
And now a message from Dr. Buzby’s mailbag. I am quite impressed with toegrips our senior-ish, Shiloh, shepherd, Masha, slipped and fell down the entire flight of hardwood stairs twice. I tried the ROSN spray, which she hated, and it didn’t work. The rubber booties made her feet stinky and sweaty. The ToeGrips on the other hand proved to be a lifesaver. She is no longer scared of the stairs and runs around with our little dog without slipping on the floor. These little toegrips are absolutely a lifesaver and they stay on. Thank you, Victoria, for info, or to help your dog get a grip, go to toegrips.com.
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