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Cacao bean shell poisoning in a dog.

Drolet R, Arendt TD, Stowe CM.

Cacao bean shells contain potentially toxic quantities of theobromine, a xanthine compound similar in effects to caffeine and theophylline. A dog, which ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cacao bean shells, developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cacao bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.

PMID: 6501051 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

There's no question about it, chocolate and other products made from cacao beans хоз., cocoa mulch ?tain substances toxic to certain animals, including both dogs and cats. And the main culprit is indeed theobromine, a caffeine-like chemical which acts as a mild diuretic and stimulant in human beings but is poisonous to animals less well equipped to metabolize it.

Cocoa mulch, which consists mainly of cacao bean shells, contains a much higher concentration of theobromine than chocolate processed for human consumption, like that in candy bars. Dogs are attracted to the scent and in documented cases have eaten the stuff, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, seizures and, in some instances, death (see symptom list). While it's equally toxic to cats, veterinarians say they are less likely to ingest cocoa products and are therefore less at risk.

If you suspect your dog may have eaten cocoa mulch, the ASPCA recommends contacting your veterinarian immediately or calling the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 for advice.


Veterinary Q & A: Chocolate Toxicity

Too much of a good thing...
Please see the archive for more Q & A topics.

The importance of chocolate...
Chocolate is popular year round, especially near holidays. I love chocolate. I have it readily available at all times. I could even say that I need chocolate now and then. This is not the case for animals, however! Chocolate is toxic, and sometimes even fatal, for animals. Dogs are most commonly affected, due to their ability to find it and the common 'sweet tooth' they seem to have. It is important to remember that cats and other species are susceptible to the toxic effects of chocolate, too.

What makes chocolate toxic, anyway?
Chocolate is made from the fruit (beans) of the cacao tree. Theobromine, a component of chocolate, is the toxic compound in chocolate. (Caffeine is also present in chocolate, but in much smaller amounts than Theobromine.)

Theobromine's effect on the body:

Are some chocolates more toxic than others?
Yes. Unsweetened (baker's) chocolate contains 8-10 times the amount of Theobromine as milk chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate falls roughly in between the two for Theobromine content. White chocolate contains Theobromine, but in such small amounts that Theobromine poisoning is unlikely.

What are the signs of toxicity?
Signs are most commonly seen within 12 hours (or less) of chocolate ingestion.

How is chocolate toxicity treated?
If you suspect that your pet has eaten chocolate (more than the stray chocolate chip that fell on the floor), call your veterinarian for advice. The toxicity of Theobromine is dose dependent. This means that the size of your pet, the type of chocolate, and quantity of chocolate determine if or how toxic it is for your pet.

There is no specific antidote for Theobromine toxicity. Medical treatment is supportive, and may include all or some of the following:

Why isn't chocolate toxic to humans?
Humans can break down and excrete Theobromine much more efficiently than dogs. The half life of Theobromine in the dog is long; approximately 17.5 hours.