Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The anal sacs, or anal glands, are a pair of small sacs located under the skin on each side of the anus of dogs and cats. These sacs contain smelly material that is normally squeezed out when an animal passes stool. If your dog is scooting his bottom across the floor, he might have an impacted (clogged) anal sac.
Anal Sac Anatomy
Anal sacs lie between the anal sphincter muscles, the circular muscles that close the anus. Each sac has a small duct that leads to an opening in the skin next to the anus. Anal sac material is liquid or pasty in consistency, ranges in color from cream to brown, and has a characteristic fishy odor.
The function of anal sacs is not entirely clear but might have to do with scent marking and communication.
Symptoms of Anal Sac Problems
Dogs and cats with anal sac disorders have symptoms of anal discomfort (these are more common in dogs):
Other problems, like parasites, fleas, and orthopedic pain, can cause some of the same symptoms.
Types of Anal Sac Disorders
The most common anal sac problem by far is impaction, in which an anal sac can’t empty on its own and material remains in the sac. Scooting the bottom on the floor and licking the anal area are typical symptoms. Impaction happens more often in small dogs than in large dogs or cats. The causes of impaction are not fully known. Many dogs go through their entire lives without ever having impacted anal sacs; others experience it regularly. Allergies, skin disease, and changes in stool consistency might make a dog more likely to have clogged anal sacs.
Impacted anal sacs can become inflamed, a condition called anal sacculitis. Anal sacculitis causes painful, swollen sacs and often redness of the skin around the anus.
Infected anal sacs can form abscesses. An anal sac abscess first appears as a painful swelling beside the anal opening. It may rupture through a skin wound that drains pus or blood next to the anus.
Anal gland tumors are less common than impaction, inflammation, or infection. They can cause swelling, bleeding, or discomfort in the anal area.
Veterinarians usually manage an impacted anal sac by gently expressing the material out of the sac. This process can be uncomfortable for the patient, especially if the material is too thick or dry to be easily removed. Some patients benefit from anal sac flushes or warm compresses applied to the anal area. Anal sac inflammation and infection are typically treated with antibiotics and pain relievers. The anal sacs can be surgically removed in patients with anal sac cancer or as a last resort for patients with other anal sac problems. (Surgical removal is not generally recommended for patients with simple anal sac impaction because of the possibility of complications after surgery.)
What You Should Do
If your dog or cat doesn’t have any symptoms of anal sac trouble and your veterinarian hasn’t found a problem, you don’t need to do anything in particular. There’s no need to change your pet’s diet or have the anal sacs expressed if they’re working normally. But be aware of the signs of anal sac impaction so you can have this uncomfortable problem taken care of before it becomes more painful for your pet.
Photo by Sheri Hooley
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Acupuncture, the technique of stimulating points on the body by inserting tiny needles through the skin, is being used more frequently to treat animals. Most scientific studies of acupuncture have been conducted in humans. However, the existing evidence in animals led the American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners to endorse acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic pain.
Anna Ponce, DVM, and I recently sat down to chat about acupuncture in pets. Dr Ponce provides acupuncture services for dogs and cats and has completed the coursework and examination requirements for certification in veterinary acupuncture. (Interview has been edited for length and flow.)
LAW: How did you decide to start doing acupuncture?
AP: My biggest push to learn acupuncture was having geriatric cats come in with arthritis. Some of them have kidney disease, and there is just no good long-term arthritis medication for these cats. Acupuncture is one of the modalities that has been mentioned, so I decided to explore that avenue and see what I could do to help arthritic cats. And that really opened my eyes to so much more that can be done with acupuncture.
What conditions do you think acupuncture helps the most?
It can really help with any condition: heart disease, kidney disease, coughing, behavioral issues, anxiety. But I think what we know it most commonly for is arthritis.
Which patients do you recommend it for, and how does it help them?
For example, this morning I recommended it for a dog that has arthritis in her knees, elbows, back, and hips. She’s had x-rays, so we know arthritis is there. It took a long time to get her on the right combination of drugs to be comfortable, but she still has off days and I absolutely think she would benefit from acupuncture.
Acupuncture has local effects like decreasing inflammation and pain, and it also helps get the body back in balance. Chronic issues are obviously going to take more time. Acupuncture is not going to make these issues disappear. It doesn’t miraculously make degenerative joint disease return to normal, but it definitely helps the pain and inflammation. [It helps the body release] serotonin, endogenous opioids, and beta endorphins. In my opinion, there’s not a pet that can’t benefit from acupuncture, even if it’s as a preventive measure.
When would you not recommend it?
I wouldn’t not recommend it for just about any patient, but the biggest consideration is whether the patient will tolerate acupuncture. Some dogs and cats fall asleep, they snore, they love their acupuncture, they look forward to it, they’re very relaxed. And then some patients are just not going to tolerate having needles placed in them.
You would not want to put a needle through infected skin. You wouldn’t want to put a needle in a tumor because it would increase blood supply to that area. Certain points are contraindicated in pregnant dogs to avoid inducing labor. And you would not do electroacupuncture [delivery of electrical current through acupuncture needles] in a dog with seizures. But other than that it’s very safe. There’s really not a patient that I would say should not get it. It’s a matter of whether they tolerate it, which I feel most of them do.
How do cats handle it?
I have one cat patient who is very good for his acupuncture. He tells me when he’s had enough needles, so he dictates how many needles he gets. When he starts to meow a little bit and get a little twitchy, we’ve reached our limit, and then he walks into his carrier, lies down, and rests there [with the needles inserted]. Another cat that I treated really enjoyed it and just lay there the entire time, comfortable.
Can you describe a typical acupuncture session?
We use very tiny sterile needles that go in acupuncture points throughout the body. The needles are even smaller than insulin needles. I do a traditional Chinese exam along with my Western exam, make my traditional Chinese diagnosis, and pick acupuncture points based on that. A session might include 5 to 40 needles, depending on what I’m treating; it’s normally 10 to 20 needles. The time patients sit with the needles inserted could be anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes.
Placement of the needles is based on meridians through which qi (chi), or energy, flows and where acupuncture points are located. The strongest points tend to be on the limbs, but those can also be more tender points for dogs and cats. So we often use more points on the back because they’re easier to access and they tend to not be quite as sensitive as the points on the limbs. When a needle’s inserted it causes a de-qi response, essentially a tingling or warming sensation, and sometimes a muscle twitch.
I also use different modalities. Dry needling is insertion of the tiny needles. In electroacupuncture, we hook up electrodes to get higher stimulation. In aquapuncture, we inject vitamin B12 under the skin at acupuncture points to get a longer effect.
How do you integrate acupuncture with Western medicine?
I believe that they complement one another. I think that acupuncture can benefit the patient in ways that Western medicine can’t, especially with end-of-life comfort and pain relief. I definitely wouldn’t throw out Western diagnostics. Bloodwork and x-rays are very important and can help tailor your acupuncture treatment. I think the best type of medicine is an integrative approach, having them work together.
Would you describe your acupuncture training?
You have to be a licensed veterinarian to practice acupuncture [in animals], but you do not have to have a certification in acupuncture to practice it. Being certified shows that you have gone through the training and that you know what you’re doing.
I took a 6-month course through the Chi Institute [of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine] in Florida. The course is 150 credit hours in 5 sessions: 2 online lecture sessions and 3 on-site sessions including lectures and a hands-on lab. After you complete the sessions you take a 200-question written exam and a practical exam. The final requirements for certification are a 30-hour internship with a certified veterinary acupuncturist and submission of a case study of a patient that you have followed for at least 3 months. I’ve done all of the coursework and the test. Once my internship hours are finished and my case study has been approved, I’ll get my certification.
1. Epstein ME, Rodan I, Griffenhagen G, et al. 2015 AAHA/AAFP pain management guidelines for dogs and cats. J Feline Med Surg. 2015;17(3):251-272.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It can be fun to choose cute winter wear for your dog (and we love seeing the adorable sweaters on dogs coming into the clinic!). But does your dog really need winter clothing? It depends.
Dogs do not all have the same tolerance for low temperatures. Dogs in the same household might have completely different attitudes about going outdoors in winter, so pay attention to your dog’s preferences and use common sense.
Which Dogs Need Winter Clothing?
Outdoor temperature, weather conditions, length of time outdoors, and level of activity (a leisurely stroll around the block versus a 5-mile run) all affect a dog’s need for extra protection. Also take the following dog-specific factors into account.
Type of Fur
Some dogs’ natural coats are like a puffer jacket; others are more akin to a thin T-shirt. The length of the hair isn’t the only consideration. Dogs with thick undercoats, or double coats, are better protected against the cold than those with single coats. Golden retrievers and Maltese both have long hair, but goldens stay warmer—and shed a lot more—because of their double coat. Goldens are also bigger than Maltese, which brings us to the next point.
Size of the Dog
In general, small dogs like Chihuahuas and toy poodles don’t handle cold weather as well as large dogs like retrievers and shepherds. This partly depends on the individual dog, but little dogs lose heat more easily than big dogs because their body surface area is higher relative to their weight.
Age and Health Status
Young puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health problems (arthritis, endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, and so forth) have a harder time maintaining their body temperature in cold weather than healthy adult dogs do.
Breeds that were developed to live in cold climates (like Newfoundlands and Bernese mountain dogs) are obviously better equipped for winter weather than greyhounds and the hairless breeds. Some breeds (and individual dogs) are just better acclimated to cold weather than others.
Signs That Your Dog Needs a Coat
Watch your dog for signs of discomfort in the cold:
If your dog has significant shivering or reluctance to move that doesn’t improve soon after coming inside to warm up, take him to a veterinary clinic to be checked for hypothermia. (Hypothermia is unlikely to happen in dogs in the Charlotte area who are outdoors under direct supervision for a reasonable length of time. It can affect dogs left outside in cold weather without adequate shelter.) Clothing is not a substitute for warm shelter.
Which Dogs Shouldn’t Wear Clothes?
Dogs can overheat if they’re wearing a coat they don’t need. There’s a reason sled dogs don’t wear parkas while they’re running the Iditarod. These dogs don’t need to be wearing clothes:
How to Choose Dog Clothing
Sweaters, jackets, and coats should fit closely enough not to drag on the ground or become tangled around the dog’s legs. However, clothing shouldn’t be tight around the neck or restrict the dog’s movement. Clothing should have no loose hanging bits that could get snagged on something or that the dog might chew. Dog clothing shouldn’t get in the way of urination and defecation (most dog coats are open under the belly and tail). Choose materials that are appropriate for the weather and easy to clean. And if your dog hates his clothes, don’t force the issue. Introduce new clothing gradually and try different materials and fits if you need to.
See more cold weather safety tips here: https://www.mallardcreekvet.com/dr-waldens-blog/cold-weather-safety-for-pets.
Photo by Rebecca Johnson, DVM
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Kennel cough, the common term for canine infectious respiratory disease (or infectious tracheobronchitis), is a contagious disease that causes a hacking cough. The infection spreads quickly among dogs. Kennel cough is usually a mild illness, but some dogs develop more serious disease.
Many bacteria and viruses cause canine infectious respiratory disease. Most dogs with the disease are infected with more than 1 organism at the same time.[1,2] Some of the organisms involved are the following:
Not all dogs get sick after being exposed to an agent that can cause respiratory disease. Some of these organisms are unlikely to cause illness on their own but can cause symptoms when combined with other organisms. Whether a dog develops respiratory disease is also affected by environmental factors (such as crowding and poor ventilation) and the dog’s immune system.
Kennel cough spreads through respiratory secretions from an infected dog. Dogs with no symptoms at all can spread the infection. Droplets containing bacteria or viruses become airborne after a dog coughs or sneezes and are deposited on surfaces, water bowls, toys, and other objects. The higher the number of dogs housed together, the higher the chance of a dog coming into contact with infected respiratory secretions.
Crowding increases stress, which reduces a dog’s protective immune response against infection. Some infectious agents can hinder the immune response, making infection with additional organisms more likely.
Bordetella bronchiseptica can infect cats and possibly humans. Infection in humans is probably of most concern in people with impaired immune function.
Because of the variety of organisms and differences in individual dogs, symptoms can vary. Typical symptoms of the mild form of disease include the following:
Some dogs, especially young puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with poor immune function, develop more severe bronchitis and pneumonia. These dogs have more serious symptoms:
For dogs with mild disease, kennel cough is usually presumed from physical examination findings and history of exposure to other dogs. Dogs with a persistent cough or signs of more serious disease need diagnostic testing, which can include chest radiographs, blood tests, and (in some cases) tests to identify the organisms involved.
Treatment decisions are based on the severity of the illness and the dog’s environment. Mild cases of kennel cough often resolve on their own, so dogs with mild disease might need only supportive care (good nutrition, limited activity, and a warm place to rest indoors). Some dogs benefit from treatment with an antibiotic active against Bordetella. Most dogs with kennel cough should not receive cough suppressants. Dogs with more severe disease need more intensive treatment. The treatment for dogs in an environment with a high risk of disease spread (like a shelter) may be different from the treatment chosen for a pet living at home.
Vaccines help control canine infectious respiratory disease. No single vaccine can entirely prevent kennel cough, but vaccinations protect dogs against some of the organisms and reduce the severity and spread of disease.
A combination vaccine including canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus type 2, and sometimes canine parainfluenza virus is recommended for all dogs. Puppies receive this vaccine as part of the puppy vaccine series. Adult dogs should have booster vaccinations (or antibody titer tests).
A vaccine against Bordetella bronchiseptica, sometimes also including canine parainfluenza virus, is recommended for dogs whose lifestyle puts them at risk for infection. The Bordetella vaccine is given in the nose, in the mouth, or by injection, depending on the formulation. Vaccines against canine influenza virus are also available. The decision to give a dog Bordetella and flu vaccines depends on the dog’s lifestyle and possibly on geographic area. Talk to your veterinarian about these vaccines if your dog goes to boarding kennels, doggie daycare, dog parks, dog shows, groomers, shelters, or other areas where dogs gather.
Because infectious respiratory disease is so contagious, dogs with symptoms should be kept away from other dogs as much as possible. Washing hands, bowls, dog toys, and clothing can reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other dogs.
1. Schulz BS, Kurz S, Weber K, Balzer HJ, Hartmann K. Detection of respiratory viruses and Bordetella bronchiseptica in dogs with acute respiratory tract infections. Vet J. 2014;201(3):365-369.
2. Hurley K, Aziz C. Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) - diagnosis and treatment; prevention and management. Pacific Veterinary Conference 2015. Veterinary Information Network website. https://www.vin.com/doc/?id=6789809. Accessed December 6, 2019.
3. Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC, a.k.a. “kennel cough”). University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine website. https://www.uwsheltermedicine.com/library/resources/canine-infectious-respiratory-disease-complex-a-k-a-kennel-cough. Published July 2015. Accessed December 6, 2019.
4. Kuehn NF. Tracheobronchitis in small animals. Merck Veterinary Manual website. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/respiratory-system/respiratory-diseases-of-small-animals/tracheobronchitis-in-small-animals. Accessed December 6, 2019.
5. 2017 AAHA canine vaccination guidelines. American Animal Hospital Association website. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/vaccination-canine-configuration/vaccination-canine/. Published September 7, 2017. Updated February 3, 2018. Accessed December 6, 2019.
Photo by Hannah Lim
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It’s tempting to share some of the Thanksgiving feast with our pets. Not all human food is safe for dogs and cats, though. The best way to avoid a holiday trip to the emergency clinic is to give pets their usual food and keep table food out of their reach. If you (or your guests) do want to give your pets a little bit of holiday food, though, here are some suggestions that are fine for most dogs and cats.
Keep in mind a few rules of thumb. Don’t give them anything that’s dangerous to dogs and cats: fatty food, bones, raw meat, raw eggs, raisins, grapes, currants, onions, garlic, leeks, raw yeast dough, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and the sugar substitute xylitol. For more, see the posts on Thanksgiving safety for pets and human foods that are toxic to pets.
Unseasoned single-ingredient foods are safer than multiple-ingredient dishes because they’re less likely to contain hidden dangers like onion. Moderation is key; too much of any food can upset a pet’s stomach. And remember that these suggestions don’t apply to pets with food allergies or digestive problems.
A bite of cooked skinless, boneless turkey meat is safe for most dogs and cats. Keep portion size in mind; a 10-lb dog or cat does not need the same amount of turkey that a person would eat. Take these precautions:
Defatted turkey or chicken broth
Pan drippings and gravy are too high in fat for dogs and cats. But a spoonful or two of defatted broth is usually fine for dogs. Don’t give broth to your cat unless you can be absolutely sure it wasn’t made with onions, leeks, shallots, or garlic; try tuna juice instead.
Vegetables and fruits
Dogs like vegetables more than you might think. Avoid grapes, raisins, currants, veggies cooked with fat or butter, and vegetable casseroles (that green bean casserole with the crispy onions on top? no). Stick with plain veggies and fruits, either raw or cooked without seasoning. My own dogs highly recommend all of these:
A small piece of bread, cornbread, or biscuit is generally safe for dogs and cats. Keep unbaked dough out of their reach; raw yeast dough can cause ethanol poisoning. Watch for added fats and seasonings (no onion focaccia or garlic bread). A bite of plain bread is safer than dressing or stuffing, which is likely to contain fat, onion, and possibly raisins or currants. Also avoid store-bought baked goods that might contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.
For pets eating prescription or limited-ingredient diets
The best approach for pets with medical needs or food allergies is to close them in a room away from the kitchen and dining area. Guests might not realize that these pets have dietary restrictions. If your pet is eating a special diet and you’d like to give treats, ask your veterinarian for safe options. Some prescription diet manufacturers have developed treats that are compatible with their diets.
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s rate of metabolism. The most common thyroid disease in cats is hyperthyroidism, or abnormally high thyroid hormone production. Hyperthyroidism has serious health effects for cats. This disease is rare in dogs.
Hyperthyroidism in cats is usually caused by a benign thyroid gland tumor that produces excess thyroid hormone. Malignant thyroid gland tumors are much less common but do occur in some cats.
Hyperthyroidism has become more common in cats over the last few decades. The disease now affects up to 10% of cats over 10 years old. The reasons for the increase in hyperthyroidism are unclear but might include genetics, substances in the environment, or dietary factors.
Thyroid hormones affect many body systems, so the signs can vary from cat to cat. However, some signs are fairly common in cats with hyperthyroidism. Weight loss in a cat with a good appetite is a classic sign of hyperthyroidism.
Cats with hyperthyroidism often have other disorders at the same time. Some of the most common are heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. The symptoms of these other conditions can overlap the symptoms of thyroid disease.
Signs of hyperthyroidism include the following:
Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed with a blood test for thyroid hormone level. Because thyroid disease is common in cats, many feline blood panels include a thyroid test. Your veterinarian might recommend routinely screening middle-aged and senior cats for hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and other common diseases. Blood tests can detect some of these disorders before a cat has any symptoms. Your veterinarian is also likely to suggest thyroid testing if your cat is losing weight or has any other signs of hyperthyroidism.
In most cats, a test for a single type of thyroid hormone (thyroxine, or T4) is enough to diagnose hyperthyroidism. Sometimes additional thyroid hormone tests are needed for diagnosis.
Cats with suspected hyperthyroidism should have other blood tests and urinalysis to screen for conditions like kidney disease. Cats with thyroid disease also benefit from regular blood pressure monitoring. Your veterinarian might recommend imaging studies like radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, or echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) to further assess the internal organs.
The goals of treatment are to return the cat’s thyroid function to normal, keep adverse effects of treatment to a minimum, and avoid lowering the thyroid hormone levels below the normal range (a condition called hypothyroidism). Untreated hyperthyroidism causes significant illness and can be life threatening.
Four treatment methods are currently available:
Radioactive iodine and surgery can potentially cure the disease. Medication and diet therapy must be continued for the rest of the cat’s life. Each of these treatment methods has benefits, adverse effects, and costs that must be taken into account for each individual cat. The cat’s overall health and other medical conditions also affect the choice of treatment. Discuss the options with your veterinarian so you can make an informed decision that works for your cat and your family.
Cats being treated for hyperthyroidism need regular monitoring to assess thyroid hormone levels and check for evidence of other diseases. The type and frequency of monitoring depend on the treatment method and the cat’s condition. Kidney disease is fairly common in cats with hyperthyroidism and sometimes doesn’t show up on laboratory tests until the thyroid function is under control, so kidney function is routinely checked in cats being treated for thyroid disease.
For More Information
Feline Hyperthyroidism (American Association of Feline Practitioners): https://catfriendly.com/feline-diseases/hyperthyroidism/
Hyperthyroidism in Cats (Cornell Feline Health Center): https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hyperthyroidism-cats
1. Carney HC, Ward CR, Bailey SJ, et al. 2016 AAFP guidelines for the management of feline hyperthyroidism. J Feline Med Surg. 2016;18(5):400-416.
Photo by Dave Francis
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The thyroid, a gland in the throat, produces hormones that regulate many body functions. In dogs, the most common thyroid disorder is hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone production. Naturally occurring hypothyroidism is rare in cats.
In dogs, hypothyroidism almost always happens either for no known reason or because of an immune system condition called lymphocytic thyroiditis. Rare causes are cancer and thyroid malformation that’s present at birth. Hypothyroidism is more common in medium and large breeds than in toy breeds. Some breeds may be more likely than others to develop hypothyroidism :
Decreased thyroid hormone levels reduce the overall rate of metabolism in the body and affect many body systems. Changes in the coat and skin are the most common results of hypothyroidism, but some dogs have few or no symptoms. The signs vary from dog to dog and can include the following:
The signs of hypothyroidism are not specific; they can be caused many disorders other than hypothyroidism. Some symptoms can improve with thyroid hormone supplementation even if the dog doesn’t have hypothyroidism. For this reason, hypothyroidism can’t be diagnosed only by the signs or by response to treatment.
Diagnosing hypothyroidism in dogs generally requires blood tests for more than 1 type of thyroid hormone. One of the main hormones produced by the thyroid is thyroxine (T4). Animals with hypothyroidism have a low blood level of T4. Most of the T4 in the blood is bound to proteins. The blood level of protein-bound T4 can be affected by illnesses other than thyroid disease. A blood test for total T4 (which includes protein-bound T4) is sometimes used to screen for thyroid disease, but this test by itself isn’t reliable for diagnosing hypothyroidism. The blood level of free T4 (T4 that is not bound to proteins) is more accurate for diagnosing hypothyroidism. Your veterinarian might recommend additional thyroid function tests if thyroid disease is suspected but not clearly shown on the initial blood tests.
Hypothyroidism is treated by giving a thyroid hormone supplement. This medication is given by mouth once or twice daily for the rest of the dog’s life. Your veterinarian will likely recommend regular blood tests to be sure your dog’s dose is correct (for example, dogs that lose weight after a few months of treatment might need a different dose tailored to the new weight). Most dogs respond well to treatment.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Chocolate is one of the top 10 animal toxins reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center each year. As you shop for Halloween candy and get ready for the holiday season, remember to keep the candy bowl and baking supplies out of reach of your dogs. (Chocolate is dangerous for cats too, but they’re less likely than dogs to eat it.)
What’s Toxic About Chocolate?
The main toxic components of chocolate are methylxanthine compounds, specifically theobromine and caffeine. Cocoa beans and their hulls have relatively high methylxanthine levels. Cocoa butter (the fat from the cocoa bean) contains very little methylxanthine.
Humans process methylxanthines in the body at a different rate than dogs do, so foods containing chocolate and caffeine that are safe for people can be very risky for dogs.
As far as toxicity goes, not all chocolate is created equal: some types of chocolate are more dangerous to dogs than others. Products with high concentrations of cocoa liquor, which is made from cocoa beans, are the most toxic for dogs.
In general, the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is for dogs. Dry cocoa powder is more toxic than dark sweet chocolate, and dark sweet chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate. Mulch made from cocoa bean hulls contains theobromine and is unsafe for dogs. White chocolate has very low methylxanthine levels and doesn’t cause chocolate poisoning.
Chocolate-containing foods can be dangerous for dogs for other reasons too. Dogs that eat food with a high fat content—this includes white chocolate—can develop pancreatitis, a disorder of the pancreas. Baked goods and candies may contain raisins, macadamia nuts, xylitol (a type of sweetener), or other ingredients that are hazardous to dogs.
How Much Chocolate Is Dangerous?
The severity of chocolate poisoning depends on 3 factors:
These 3 factors determine the dose of methylxanthine that a dog has received. The higher the dose, the more severe the consequences.
Figuring out the amount of methylxanthine in a chocolate product isn’t always simple because cocoa content varies. You can get a general idea of your pet’s risk by using a chocolate toxicity calculator like the one at veterinaryclinic.com. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a mobile app that includes a easy-to-use chocolate calculator and information on other potential hazards.
Signs of Chocolate Poisoning
The signs of chocolate poisoning depend on the dose of methylxanthine. Dogs that eat chocolate can also develop pancreatitis (from the fat content) or have toxic effects from other ingredients. Signs of methylxanthine poisoning usually appear within 6 to 12 hours and include the following:
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate
If your dog eats chocolate or a caffeine-containing product, estimate how much she ate and make a note of the ingredients. Save the product label if possible. Call your veterinarian’s office if you’re not sure if the amount was safe. If your dog has symptoms of chocolate poisoning or if the amount or type of chocolate was dangerous (for example, if your Chihuahua ate a 2-oz bar of dark chocolate), seek veterinary care right away.
Dogs with chocolate poisoning may need to be hospitalized for treatment. Your veterinarian might induce vomiting or might recommend that you do this at home—but don’t try to make your dog vomit without checking with your veterinarian first (induced vomiting is not always the best or safest approach). The prognosis depends on the severity of the symptoms.
Image credit: CDC/Debora Cartegena
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
In cats and dogs, chronic (long-term) pain causes subtle behavior changes that can be mistaken for normal effects of aging. Pain can also cause unwanted behaviors like house soiling. Don’t assume that changes in behavior, activity, or mood result from aging, anxiety, or human emotions like resentment or anger. Your pet could be in pain instead.
Arthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in older animals but can go undetected, especially in animals like cats that are biologically programmed to hide their pain. Signs of acute pain (caused by injury) are easier to spot. Whatever the cause of your pet’s pain, recognizing the signs is the first step to helping your pet feel better.
If you think your pet may be in pain, consult a veterinarian. Never treat an animal’s pain with over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, or other remedies without checking with your veterinarian first. Many over-the-counter pain remedies, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve), are toxic or even fatal to dogs and cats. Your veterinarian can suggest safer and more effective measures for your pet.
Signs of Pain in Cats
Signs of Pain in Dogs
15 Signs of Pain in Dogs (PDF, American Animal Hospital Association): https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/pain-management/painmgmt_15signs.pdf
How Do I Know if My Cat Is in Pain? (American Association of Feline Practitioners): https://catfriendly.com/feline-diseases/signs-symptoms/know-cat-pain/
How to Tell if Your Dog Is in Pain (PDF, American Animal Hospital Association): https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/pain-management/painmanagement_dogs_web.pdf
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Seizures can be upsetting to watch but are usually over quickly. A pet that has had a seizure for the first time should see a veterinarian. Seizures that last longer than 5 minutes or that happen in clusters (2 or more seizures in a day) are medical emergencies.
What Is a Seizure?
Seizures are involuntary movements caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. How a seizure looks depends on the type of seizure.
Is It a Seizure?
Some other conditions can look like seizures. Heart disease can cause fainting spells that look very similar to seizures. Other nervous system disorders, orthopedic problems, pain responses, trembling, and even extreme itching can mimic seizures.
If your pet has an episode of unusual movement or behavior, you don’t have to decide whether it was a seizure. Take your pet to a veterinarian and be prepared to describe the episode in as much detail as possible. A video can be very helpful. The veterinarian will ask how long the episode lasted, what your pet did (paddling the legs, urinating, etc), and whether your pet had access to toxins or medications before the episode. Your veterinarian will also need to know if your pet has had seizures before and if so, your pet’s age at the first seizure.
A true seizure is followed by a period of disorientation or other unusual behavior. Watch for this phase and tell your veterinarian if you see it. True seizures also begin with an aura phase (nervousness, seeking attention), but pet owners don’t often witness this phase.
Causes of Seizures
The many possible causes of seizures can be classified as things outside the brain (problems elsewhere in the body that affect brain function), things inside the brain (structural problems with the brain itself), or epilepsy.
Primary epilepsy is the most common diagnosis in dogs that start having seizures between the ages of about 6 months and 6 years. It is genetic in some breeds but can happen in dogs of any breed. Primary epilepsy is uncommon in cats. Dogs with primary epilepsy seem normal between seizures. Not being normal between seizures could be a sign that the seizure is caused by something else.
Veterinarians perform diagnostic tests to look for the cause of the seizure and rule out other conditions that mimic seizures. Primary epilepsy is diagnosed by not finding another cause for the seizure. Your veterinarian might recommend referring your pet to a veterinary neurologist.
What to Do if Your Pet Has a Seizure
Treatment depends on the cause of the seizure. Dogs with epilepsy generally have repeat seizures, and the choice of medication depends on the frequency and severity of the seizures. Epilepsy is a lifelong condition that can be managed but can’t be cured, so dogs with epilepsy usually need medication for life. Whatever the cause of the seizure, work in partnership with your veterinarian to develop your pet’s treatment plan. Anticonvulsant medication has specific dosage requirements, so don’t change the dose or timing of your pet’s medication without consulting your veterinarian.
Photo by Anne Dudek
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM