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My Pet World: Chocolate really is bad for dogs, cats

Cat (animal)

Question: Is it true that chocolate is really bad for dogs? My dog got into some chocolate cookies several years ago but didn't seem to suffer any ill effects.

Is this chocolate thing a myth? — G.D., Miami

Answer: Chocolate is indeed toxic to both dogs and cats.

Chocolate is made from cocoa, and cocoa beans contain caffeine and a related chemical compound called theobromine, which is the real danger. The problem is, dogs metabolize theobromine much more slowly than people do. It builds up in their systems and can cause hyperactivity, tremors, high blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, seizures, respiratory failure, even cardiac arrest.

Cats and dogs have potentially the same response, but cats apparently aren't as interested in eating the stuff as dogs are.

I can't say for sure why your dog didn't become ill. I'm not endorsing chocolate for any dog, but one small chocolate chip cookie is not as likely to cause problems for a large dog as it might for a smaller pooch. Also, baking chocolate and dark chocolate contains more theobromine than sweeter chocolates.

In any case, be careful about leaving chocolates or chocolate-laced goodies out for Santa. (He doesn't need the calories anyway.)

Q: Should I allow my cat to sip eggnog? I figure eggnog has lots of protein, and my cat likes milk anyway. — S.H., Cyberspace

A: I'm not sure where the tradition of feeding cats milk began, but believe it or not, some cats are lactose intolerant. Since many can tolerate milk just fine, I suppose occasionally lapping up just a little (2% or skim) milk once in a while isn't so bad. But eggnog? This holiday concoction, especially the store-bought variety, is loaded with sugar. Instead, give your kitty a welcome treat that's sugar free and nearly calorie-free: catnip.

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Personal Note

For 17 years, I've been answering your questions in this column. At the rate of about four questions and answers per week, I've researched and replied to more than 3,500 queries! After combing through the pile, TMS editors and I have compiled and published two "best of" collections of questions about behavior problems in the ebooks "Good Dog!" and "Good Cat!"

With guidance, most behavioral issues can be solved. In these books, I answer common questions ranging from scratching and litter box indiscretions in cats to crate training for puppies, thunderstorm anxiety in dogs, compulsive behaviors, aggression and much more. There's even a chapter of offbeat queries.

As a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, I provide many answers, but also enlist opinions from renowned experts in animal behavior. My hope is the answers will be helpful to many pet owners facing similar problems.

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