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Eliot Daley Headshot

Death by Chocolate: The Tragedy, Not the Dessert

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You know the scene: the cheery holiday house decorated with lights and greenery and candies and candles and people -- our house filled to overflowing this week with all three of our adult children, their spouses, their children, and their dogs. Four small dogs, and one big lovable black lab female named "Wes Welker". Okay, so cut her owner some slack. Even though raised in New Jersey, he has been a lifelong fan of the (first "Boston", now "New England") Patriots and, three years ago, insisted on naming his new dog after his favorite player, gender-be-damned.

Now both are gone out his life, the footballing Welker to Denver and the ball-chasing, constantly cavorting, athletically robust, incorrigible food-hound "Wes" to wherever great dogs go when they die.

Wes suffered death by chocolate. And so I am writing this urgent plea to spread the word to everyone else whose holiday homes have plates of chocolate candies on the cocktail tables or anywhere else that's accessible to dogs. Chocolate can kill dogs.

Let me repeat that. Chocolate can kill dogs.

This is not an urban legend. You can check it out many places, including here.

We didn't know that until Wes died yesterday. Now that our kids all have their own families and homes and our own small dog is indifferent to food, we give little thought to leaving edibles on the cocktail table or other places accessible to a determined dog. And so day before yesterday we did leave foods around when we all departed for a Christmas pageant. When we got home an hour later, the plates and bowls on the table had been swept clean: crackers, spreads, almonds and M&Ms.

We all knew who the culprit was, because Wes is famous for her indiscriminate raiding of foodstuffs -- the only dog I ever knew who would eat apples and celery with an enthusiasm equal to that she displayed for more predictably dog-attracting treats. And so we (unfortunately) laughed it off, chalking the binge off to one more example of her being an unrepentant rascal.

Only later did we discover evidence of her further pillaging of the house: she invaded our bedroom where, hidden behind a large chair, was a bag full of stocking stuffers yet to be wrapped. Among the edibles: a bar of very dark chocolate and a one-pound plastic container of dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans. And she had devoured them all.

That night she paid for her sins, with upchucking at one end and extra action at the other. We figured her body was getting even with her and ridding itself of just too much rich food. Other family dogs had survived encounters with rich food -- even some chocolate -- without lethal effect, and the next day Wes seemed to have weathered the assault.

What we learned too late (and you can learn by clicking through to the website) is that chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine (a bit like caffeine) that is poisonous to dogs. Unlike humans, their metabolism can't process theobromide. And the darker the chocolate, the worse the poisonous effect. Except for the M&Ms, all the chocolate Wes ate was the darkest possible. Some authorities say that several ounces is enough to fell a 45-pound dog. Wes must have had a pound or more.

Yesterday afternoon, one of our grandsons tossed a ball in our back yard for Wes to fetch. Wes sprinted six or seven leaps and fell dead.

As I write this, Wes's family is taking her across town to be cremated so that, when they return to their farm in Maine next week, they can lovingly deposit Wes' remains where she lived her exuberant and all-too-short life.

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