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Chocolate & Xylitol May be Sweet, but NOT in Your Pup. Know what to do "in case"

Last week we blogged about Thanksgiving foods - people foods in general - that are safe and fun to share with your pup. The flip side is there are a lot of things we eat (or are part of holiday decor) that are toxic to pup or a kitty. Truthfully, most kitties are too smart eat something poisonous. Alas, many pups are too curious not to.

We checked in with Dr. Chris Gaylord of North Slope Veterinary to learn what to avoid and what to do in case.

Brooklyn Bark: What are some things I should look out for this holiday season in order to keep my dog healthy? Are there certain toxins that are more commonly seen this time of year? Dr. Chris: Yes, chocolate toxicity, and increasingly xylitol (an artificial sweetener) toxicity are all things that pet owners should be aware of during the holiday season. Chocolate ingestion is by far the most common.

BBark: Can my pet die from eating chocolate? Dr. Chris: It’s possible but most cases are not that serious. There are three factors that determine how harmful chocolate ingestion can be. The first is the size of your dog, the second is the amount they ingest, and the third is the type of chocolate. Chocolate can be toxic to cats as well but reports are uncommon, probably because cats, being more discerning, don’t tend to eat a pound and a half of bakers chocolate.

BBark: What types of chocolate are the most dangerous? Dr. Chris: A general rule of thumb is the darker the chocolate the more severe the toxic effects. There are two compounds in chocolate that are toxic to dogs, theobromine and caffeine. Generally there is much more theobromine than caffeine so that is what tends to cause the problem. Baking chocolate contains roughly 10 times as much theobromine as milk chocolate. Pure Cacao beans can contain 50 times as much theobromine.

BBark: Is chocolate toxicity treatable? Dr. Chris: Yes, especially if you respond quickly and call your veterinarian if you believe your dog has ingested chocolate. If vomiting can be induced within one hour of consumption than digestive absorption can be prevented. Otherwise chocolate lasts in a dogs system for as long as 4 days so supportive care may be necessary.

BBark: What are the signs of chocolate toxicity? Dr. Chris: Vomiting and diarrhea are the first signs generally occurring a couple of hours after ingestion. Restlessness and nervousness may also be seen. In more severe cases neurological signs are noted including seizures.

BBark: What is xylitol? Dr. Chris: Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is increasingly present in gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, baked goods and now "low sugar" peanut butter. Dogs’ bodies cannot tell the difference between xylitol and actual sugar so they release more and more insulin to take the sugar out of the blood. This causes low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia which is an extremely serious condition. Larger amounts of xylitol can have a second toxic effect which damages the liver. It is uncertain if Xylitol can be toxic to cats but there are no reported cases.

BBark: What are signs of xylitol toxicity? Dr. Chris: Vomiting is common. Also progressive lethargy, weakness, ataxia (dizziness, stumbling), collapse and seizures.

BBark: How much xylitol containing product does a dog need to ingest to get sick?

Dr. Chris: Not much, but unfortunately determining the amount of xylitol in a product can be tricky. The amount of xylitol in a single stick of gum can range from 0.9 mg to 1000 mg. That means that potentially one stick of gum can be toxic to a 20 lb dog.

BBark: How do I know how much xylitol is in the stick of gum that my pup may have just eaten?

Dr. Chris: Unfortunately, the FDA just requires listing ingredients. It doesn't require listing amounts of ingredients. There are many different brands of chewing gum and within brands there are different flavors which contain different amounts.

No vet, not even emergency vets, can keep up with so many formulas.

What we do - and what the pet owner who suspects pup just ingested xylitol should do even before calling their vet - is to phone Poison Control. Poison Control partners with chewing gum and food companies (and almost all companies that produce other potential toxins such as cleaning materials) to share their formulas under a non-disclosure agreement. If you are able to tell the technician on duty the brand, the flavor, the amount and your dog's weight, he or she can instantly calculate toxicity. If pup is in the danger zone, they will dispatch you to your vet. While you are traveling, they will get your vet on the phone, give them the vital information so the staff will have everything they need to save your pet waiting as you walk through the door.

BBark: Is there treatment for xylitol toxicity? Dr. Chris: Yes, again if treated quickly your veterinarian may be able to induce vomiting so that the xylitol is not absorbed. Otherwise they may need to be placed on intravenous glucose and monitored for signs of hypoglycemia and/or liver failure.

BBark: I’ve heard that Poinsettias are toxic to animals? Is that true? Dr. Chris: Poinsettias contain mild gastrointestinal toxins. If ingested they may cause stomach upset and in more severe cases, diarrhea and vomiting in dogs and cats. Your veterinarian may treat your pet for gastroenteritis but most cases are mild and self-limiting.

BBark: Thank you and happy holidays to you and your family, Dr. Chris. Let us take one moment to remind readers that Brooklyn Bark has printed emergency magnets that include the phone numbers of Poison Control as well as local emergency vets in the event pup gets into trouble during off hours. Anyone who does not have a magnet, can shoot an email over to We will be happy to send you yours.

May we all have wonderful..... and safe..... holidays.

Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the practice owner of North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Gaylord practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before opening his practice in Park Slope. He can be reached at To make an appointment with Dr. Gaylord, call 718-789-7170, M-F:9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. House calls available on request.

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