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Why Is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

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I grew up with a series of dogs that were shameless food moochers. Max, our German Shepherd-Black Lab mix, was once left on his own in the house while the humans were having a backyard cookout. Poor Aunt Sophie went in to get something from the kitchen and found Max standing on the kitchen table, working his way in a circle around the top of her homemade bundt cake. Needless to say, the utmost precaution had to be taken with certain foods the dogs couldn’t have. Chocolate bars were transported under the cover of darkness and consumed only when a room had been cleared and locked down.

Why the trouble? Chocolate is toxic to dogs and a number of other animals because it contains alkaloid chemicals called methylxanthines - namely, theobromine (3,7-dimethylxanthine) and caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine). Both of these stimulate the nervous and cardiovascular systems. It’s an effect that humans seek out, and we can get away with it because we metabolize the chemicals relatively quickly. Other animals process them more slowly, so the effects are more pronounced.

If a dog eats too much theobromine and caffeine, they’ll start to show a number of symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, muscle spasms, excessive panting, hyperactive behavior, seizures and dehydration. They may become hyperthermic, go into respiratory failure or experience cardiac arrhythmia, all of which can cause death.

So, how much chocolate is too much for a dog? Depends on the size of the dog, and the kind of chocolate. The amount of methylxanthines in chocolate varies among different chocolate products and brands. In general, though, dry cocoa powder has the most, with around 800 milligrams per ounce, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate (~450 mg/oz), semisweet and sweet dark chocolate (~150-160 mg/oz) and milk chocolate (~64 mg/oz) follow.

Based on their experience and research, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center considers 100 to 200 milligrams of methylxanthines per kilogram of dog to be a lethal dose. Mild symptoms can happen with doses as small as 20 mg/kg and severe symptoms, including seizures, can happen at 40-60 mg/kg. Given those numbers, as little as four ounces of dark chocolate could cause problems for a average-sized, 60lb Labrador Retriever, America’s most popular breed. How much chocolate can your dog handle before trouble starts? National Geographic has a handy calculator to figure out the amount based on your dog’s weight and the type of chocolate.

If a dog does eat a toxic dose of chocolate, there’s not much that can be done for it outside of a vet’s office if the methylxanthines make it into the dog’s bloodstream and start circulating through the body. In her book, Help!: The Quick Guide to First Aid for Your Dog, veterinarian Michelle Bamberger recommends slowing or stopping this process by the body by trying to make the dog vomit. Don’t try sticking your fingers down its throat, though. Instead, feed it a small dose (a teaspoon) of hydrogen peroxide or table salt. Your vet can handle things from there, and treatment usually involves giving the dog activated charcoal to bind to the toxins and using intravenous fluid therapy to flush them out.

Methylxanthines in chocolate are toxic for other animals, too. Cats are especially susceptible because of their small size. Luckily for them, cats lack the taste receptors that pick up “sweet” tastes, and rarely have much motivation for eating more than a nibble or two of chocolate. Both horses and humans are less susceptible to chocolate toxicity thanks to their size and faster metabolization of the chemicals. Methylxanthine poisoning can still happen to people who consume large amounts of chocolate or coffee in a small timeframe, though, and the amount of caffeine in a strong cup of coffee is enough to cause symptoms in a small child.

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Animals
Miami to Host Inaugural Canine Film Festival
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There’s an annual festival dedicated to internet cat videos, so it only makes sense that dog-lovers would create their own film event. As the Miami New-Times reports, the Magic City will host the inaugural Canine Film Festival on July 15 and 16. The fundraising event encourages movie lovers to enjoy submitted flicks with their furry friends.

The festival will take place at the Cinépolis Coconut Grove and Hotel Indigo in Miami Lakes. Festivities kick off on the first day with “A Day at the Movies With Your Dog,” featuring film screenings attended by dogs and humans alike. Other events scheduled throughout the weekend include a dog fashion show, dog yoga, silent auctions, a canine costume contest, an after-party at Miami Lakes' Hotel Indigo, and an awards ceremony.

Admission costs $10 to $1000, and 50 percent of ticket proceeds will benefit local animal rescues and shelters. For more information, visit the Canine Film Festival's website.

[h/t Miami New Times]

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?
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A dog's behavior can often prove confusing to their human colleagues. We know they like to eat their own poop, but puzzle at their motivations. We're surprised when dogs give a ladybug the same greeting as a home intruder.

Topping the list of eccentric canine behavior: Why do dogs howl at sirens? Is there some genetic predisposition to responding to a high-pitched alarm from passing ambulances or police vehicles?

As it turns out, the reason dogs howl at sirens is because of their ancestry—namely, the wolf. When members of a pack are fractured and spread out, their companions will howl to provide a way of locating them. Think of it as nature’s GPS: By howling, dogs are able to communicate their respective locations to one another, even across long distances.

Since dogs really don’t know what a cop car is supposed to sound like, they’ll often interpret a siren as an animal’s howl. It’s also possible that dogs consider sirens to be a sign that something is abnormal in their environment, and that they want you, the pack leader, to be aware of it.

Contrary to belief, a dog is rarely howling because the noise hurts their delicate ears. If that were the case, some experts say, then they would display other behaviors, like running and hiding.

The more a dog hears and responds to a siren, the more they might be compelled to continue the behavior. That’s because dogs who howl and then notice the sound drifting away might begin to associate their vocalizing with the disappearance of the noise. In the future, they’ll probably recall that they “drove” the interloper away with their warbling and repeat the process.

While howling is usually harmless, sometimes it can be a sign that your pet is feeling separation anxiety from an owner or that they’re feeling unwell. If howling persists even without a screaming siren within earshot, you might consider taking them in for a check-up.

If you’ve wondered why dogs howl at sirens, now you know. It’s simply a way of signaling their location and not because it pains them. Owners, on the other hand, might feel differently.

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