WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Westchester residents should be sure to keep their Valentine's Day candy and chocolate away from their pets, as it can cause serious health problems for dogs.
The effects that chocolate can have on dogs can vary depending on the size of the dog and the type of chocolate that they eat, according to David Bessler, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency Group in White Plains.
"Milk chocolate can have a tremendous effect on small dogs," Bessler said.
Milk chocolate generally has a lower concentration of cocoa. Darker chocolates with even more concentration of cocoa is more dangerous, and can have an effect on both small and large dogs.
Eating chocolate can cause a wide range of symptoms in dogs, from low-end gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and diarrhea, to more severe cardiovascular issues. Bessler said that because chocolate is a stimulant it can cause a dog's heart to race as well as neurological issues such as seizures. He said that if an owner suspects their dog has eaten chocolate and begins exhibiting these symptoms, they should contact their veterinarian right away.
"It's important that every family that owns a dog should have a veterinarian that they use, trust and can call at a moment's notice," Bessler said.
During off-hours, they should call emergency services such as the Veterinary Emergency Group or other resources in Westchester. They should discuss the case with the doctor and find out what to do next.
Vets will often recommend inducing vomiting, but this is not always the case, Bessler said. Sometimes the doctor will administer activated charcoal to prevent the dog from absorbing the chocolate in the stomach. For moderate to severe cases, vets will put the dog on IV fluids to flush out the chemicals and reverse the effects.
Though dogs do enjoy sweets and there are some chocolate substitutes for dogs such as carob, Bessler said that dogs do not sweet foods. He said that sugar substitutes and sugar-free candy and gum can be even more harmful than chocolate.
"I would stay away from anything sweet," Bessler said.
Chocolate can also be dangerous for cats, but it is more rare for them to ingest it, Bessler said. They are not generally as curious about eating things as dogs are. The harmful substances that cats do eat tend to be things that they play with, such as strings.