Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dangers of Holiday Snacking for Your Diabetic Dog or Cat

During the winter holidays, the average person tends to gain weight because of the parties and snacking on delicious goodies. Our dogs and cats are keen to these festivities.
Our pets are often times smarter than we are when it comes to food. An otherwise normal pet can become a diabolical genius when it comes to begging. Your pet's pleading warm brown eyes that seem to penetrate to your very soul and can sway your better judgment. But what may be a "little bite" to someone the size of a human is much more to a small dog or cat!

More of a Problem in the Diabetic Dog or Cat

Although feeding treats to a normal dogs and cats may just lead to weight gain, the issue is much more important in your diabetic pet.

Dogs tend to be keenly aware of all the goodies and baked goods in the home. All the sugar in such special holiday treats can be very detrimental to diabetic control. Giving a high-sugar treat in the middle of the day is likely to cause an unwelcome glucose spike.  If you must give in, choose a low-sugar healthy snack and give it with the dog's meal. Of course, if you are giving a treat, cut back appropriately on the amount of regular food given to your dog.

These snacking situations may be less troubling for cats. Cats are usually drawn toward the ham and turkey and not so much the sweets and breads we find in our homes over the holidays. Cats do not have the taste receptors for sweetness so they cannot taste sugars (1-3). Cats tend to be nibblers and are often placed on a longer-acting insulin. A nibble here and there of a low carb bit of meat isn't typically a problem for your diabetic cat.

Chocolate is Toxic

Make sure that any holiday chocolates are kept away from where your pet can reach them.  Even small amounts of chocolate can result in poisoning in dogs and cats (4).

The toxic principles in chocolate are the methylxanthines, theobromine and caffeine. Although the concentration of theobromine in chocolate is 3-10 times that of caffeine, both constituents contribute to the clinical syndrome seen in chocolate toxicosis.  Listed below are the total methylxanthine concentration of commonly used chocolate products:
  • Dry cocoa powder ~800 mg/oz (28.5 mg/g)
  • Unsweetened (baker’s) chocolate ~450 mg/oz (16 mg/g)
  • Semisweet chocolate and sweet dark chocolate ~150-160 mg/oz (5.4-5.7 mg/g),
  • Milk chocolate ~64 mg/oz (2.3 mg/g)
  • White chocolate is an insignificant source of methylxanthines.
Serious poisoning happens frequently in dogs and cats who metabolize methylxanthines much more slowly than human; they can easily consume enough chocolate to be poisoned (5-6).

The most common victims of theobromine poisoning are dogs, for which it can be fatal. The toxic dose for cats is even lower than for dogs. Again, cats are less prone to eating chocolate since they are unable to taste sweetness (1-3).

In general, mild signs (vomiting, diarrhea, polydipsia) may be seen in dogs ingesting 10-20 mg/kg, cardiotoxic effects may be seen at 40-50 mg/kg, and seizures may occur at doses ≥60 mg/kg (5-7). One ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially lethal dose in dogs.

A typical 20 kg (44 lb) dog will normally experience intestinal distress after eating less than 240 g (8.5 oz) of dark chocolate, but won't necessarily experience toxicity unless it eats at least half a kilogram (1.1 lb) of milk chocolate. Large breeds (>100 lbs) can safely consume chocolate in limited quantities, but care must still be taken, as they can safely eat only about a quarter the amount a human can, and should not be intentionally fed it.

  1. Li X,  Wang H, Cao J, et al. Pseudogenization of a sweet-receptor gene accounts for cats' indifference toward sugar. PLoS Genetics 2005;1:27-35. 
  2. Li X, Li W, Wang H, et al. Cats lack a sweet taste receptor. Journal of Nutition 2006;136:1932S-1934S. 
  3. Biello, David (August 16, 2007). Strange but True: Cats Cannot Taste Sweets. Scientific American. Retrieved July 28, 2009.
  4. Smit HJ. Theobromine and the pharmacology of cocoa. Handbook of experimental pharmacology 2011;(200):201-234.  
  5. Stidworthy MF, Bleakley JS, Cheeseman MT, et al. Chocolate poisoning in dogs. Veterinary Record 1997;141:28. 
  6. Gunning ME, den Hertog E, van Velsen NF, et al. Chocolate intoxication in dogs. Tijdschrift voor Diergeneeskunde. 2010;135:896-899. 
  7. The Merck Veterinary Manual (online edition). Chocolate. 

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