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PERSONAL BEST

Can chocolate kill dogs? This corgi got lucky

Fortunately, medication is helping Freddie the incorrigible corgi after a not-so-festive feast.

Charlotte Sutton | Times

Fortunately, medication is helping Freddie the incorrigible corgi after a not-so-festive feast.

As we were putting together today's issue of Personal Best, something of a theme developed: the nobility of dogs.

Our cover subject, Nicole Johnson, shared not only her terrific diabetes-friendly recipes, but also her latest and furriest weapon against the disease. Lucy the labradoodle is learning to detect when Nicole's blood sugar levels are plummeting, saving her from a crisis.

And columnist Bob Clark, who occasionally sends me videos of his amazing skateboarding dogs, has contributed a great rundown of the many health benefits dogs add to our lives.

My personal dog story, alas, is not quite so uplifting.

But I'm sharing it because the holidays are here, and chances are I'm not the only knucklehead who forgets how easy it is to turn a celebration for people into a near-disaster for pets.

It all started Halloween morning. Knowing I'd be stuck at work late, I arranged the candy in a basket and placed it on the table by the front door, well out of reach of our 5-year-old corgi, Freddie.

Corgis, if you haven't had the pleasure of meeting one, are smart, handsome, noble — and short, putting tables and kitchen counters out of their reach.

This is key because if dogs can be compulsive eaters, Freddie is one. Nasty stuff on the sidewalk, bits of stray onion that go flying off the cutting board, the occasional notepad — he's not picky.

But whether by levitation or ingenuity, Freddie snagged his prey. By the time my husband got home from work that evening, he counted 15 candy wrappers on the floor — alongside one bloated dog.

(Freddie rejected Reese's and Hershey bars for the Almond Joys, though I do not expect an endorsement deal.)

Anyway, Freddie reacted as one might expect, but the discomfort seemed to, er, pass.

But Saturday morning, my compulsive eater refused his breakfast kibble. I was alarmed.

Dr. Aimee Burke and the staff at Haines Road Animal Hospital did not scold me, though I can't imagine it wasn't tempting.

Freddie was poked, prodded and X-rayed. Fortunately, he didn't have a stray wrapper wedged in his colon. Unfortunately, blood tests revealed that his liver was not happy.

The veterinarian explained that chocolate contains methylxanthine, a caffeinelike stimulant. The darker the chocolate, the more the methylxanthine. This does a number on dogs and other animals. "The biggest effect is on the heart,'' she told me, explaining it can lead to fast heartbeat and low blood pressure. In Freddie's case, that meant not enough blood was getting to his liver.

She prescribed three medications that are bringing his liver counts back to normal. She thinks he'll be fine, given the liver's regenerative abilities.

We might not have had such a happy ending, however. Burke told me that chocolate is one the most common sources of poisoning in dogs, especially around the holidays. It can lead to coma, cardiac failure and even death.

So, no more leaving chocolate alone with Freddie.

Nor will I be having any poinsettias at home this season, even on high tables, as Burke confirms they're even more toxic than chocolate.

Biggest lesson: Even if your pet seems okay after ingesting something questionable, call your vet and explain what happened. Better to feel a little foolish than to take a terrible risk.

Charlotte Sutton I Health and medicine editor

Terry Tomalin I Outdoors/fitness editor

Brittany Volk I Designer

Scott Keeler I Cover photo

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Can chocolate kill dogs? This corgi got lucky 11/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 3:30am]

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