Harley's secret Easter hunt

Harley is a 16 week old male American Staffordshire Terrier. Young Harley had a lovely adventure with a chocolate Easter Bunny that stood almost as tall as he. His wonderful time came to an end when his owners found him with a half consumed foil covered rabbit, and they placed a call to our trained team of nurses at Vetwest Yokine for advice. Our nurse, Lindsey, advised that he should be seen immediately and he was whisked down to the clinic to induce vomiting.

On arrival approximately half an hour after being found out, Harley was still bright and alert with no obvious symptoms, but on thorough clinical exam, he displayed tachycardia (fast heart rate) that is one of the early effects of the cocoa toxin. His initial heart rate was 220 beats per minute. He had consumed approximately half of a 500gm chocolate bunny made of milk chocolate which was certainly enough to make him ill and stress his heart.


Harley was given an injection to make him vomit to empty his stomach and minimise absorption of the toxin. He vomited six times to empty his stomach completely before we stopped his vomiting from continuing with another anti-nausea injection. By this time his heart rate had dropped to a more normal puppy range of 160-170 beats per minute and his other vital signs were stable.

We were very happy with his progress and finally administered activated charcoal by mouth to adsorb (stick to) any remaining chocolate that would have already reached his intestines and minimize absorption further.

Chocolate toxicity (from contained methylxanthine alkaloids theobromine and caffeine) is a common household problem around Easter and Christmas when chocolate gifts are waiting to be given. Puppies and young dogs may be more likely to ingest large amounts of unusual foods, but we have also had to treat adult dogs for this problem.


As to what you may see at home: restlessness, vomiting and diarrhoea may be early signs (2-4 hrs after ingestion) of chocolate toxicity, progressing to excitement and seizures as the condition worsens, eventually ending in weakness, coma and death due to heart failure 12-36 hours after ingestion. Early intervention to minimize absorption is imperative.

White chocolate contains the lowest percentage of methylxanthines, followed in increasing amounts by hot chocolate, milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, cooking chocolate and finally the cacao bean has the highest percentage and highest toxicity risk.

Fortunately Harley's adventure with the Easter Bunny had a happy ending, as he recovered quickly and completely from his belly full of chocolate. If he had not been caught in the act, or his owners had not responded so quickly it may not have been such a happy Easter.

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