Most everyone enjoys a sweet treat of chocolate every now and then.

Even pets like to have a treat, too. However, chocolate should be avoided, because it can be toxic to animals.

With the holiday season in full swing, pet owners may have more chocolate in the house for baking Christmas cookies and candies. Pet owners need to be aware of the danger chocolate can pose for their furry friends, said Dr. Carolyn MacAllister, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service veterinarian.

"Pets enjoy sweet treats, just like their owners do, but it is better to give them a sweet dog treat," MacAllister said. "Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a toxic compound for animals. Animals are much more sensitive to this compound than we are."

Milk chocolate contains about 44 milligrams per ounce and dark chocolate, such as dark baking chocolate, contains 450 milligrams per ounce. For a medium-sized dog of 25 pounds, it may take up to 20 ounces of milk chocolate to cause the animal problems, but it takes just a couple of ounces of dark chocolate to put the animal in jeopardy. For pets, chocolate consumption is dose dependent. The smaller the animal, the less chocolate they can consume for it to be lethal, and the larger the pet, the more chocolate it would take to constitute a lethal amount.

Some signs pet owners should be aware of, in the event their pet manages to consume a large amount of chocolate, include vomiting and diarrhea.

"If you suspect your dog has gotten into a plate of brownies or other chocolate candy that contains a significant amount of chocolate, you should contact your veterinarian and take the pet in," MacAllister said. "The veterinarian can give your pet medication that will help protect their gastrointestinal tract to help decrease absorption of the chocolate. The veterinarian may also give the pet other medications to prevent them from getting sick."

Pet owners who live quite a distance from their veterinarian may want to call the poison control hotline for animals at 1-800-548-2423. This hotline can help pet owners not only with chocolate toxicity, but also everything from toxic plants to pesticides.

Pet owners should not be concerned if their dog or cat eats a chocolate chip that has fallen on the floor. They need to be concerned about bigger amounts of chocolate.

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