Vets are calling on pet owners to put all their chocolate eggs in a safely secured basket well out of reach of inquisitive pets to avoid chocolate poisoning and an emergency trip to the vets over the Easter weekend.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued the warning along with a handy guide to recognising symptoms of chocolate poisoning, as Google searches in the UK for questions like ‘how much chocolate can a dog eat’, ‘signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs’ and ‘how much chocolate will kill a dog’ all show a steep annual spike at this time of the year.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can be dangerous for all pets even in the smallest quantity. However, dogs are particularly susceptible to poisoning due to a chemical called theobromine, which is found naturally in cocoa beans. Theobromine takes a long time to be broken down inside a dog’s digestive system, which means that even a tiny amount of chocolate can result in toxic levels, especially for smaller dogs and puppies. For this reason, white chocolate is usually safe for dogs if ingested accidentally but the effects with milk chocolate can vary, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and keep all types of chocolate away.
Vets often see a spike in chocolate toxicity cases over celebratory periods such as Easter and Christmas. BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession surveys from 2016 to 2018 revealed that six in ten vets (60%) had treated cases of chocolate poisoning over Easter each year.
Raisins and sultanas, found in hot cross buns and simnel cakes, and xylitol (found in sugar-free treats) can also be dangerous for dogs and cats if ingested.
BVA President Justine Shotton said:
“We all look forward to indulging in sweet treats over Easter but it’s important to take precautions to keep curious pets out of trouble. Human foods such as hot cross buns with sultanas or chocolate bunnies are a strict no-no, with chocolate being particularly toxic for dogs, who have a hard time metabolising some of the components and can get very sick from even a small amount.
“As a vet, I’ve seen many cases of chocolate ingestion over Easter and Christmas, but luckily the vast majority of pets were brought to the practice quickly and we were able to treat the patients successfully.
“Dogs will usually start showing signs of chocolate toxicity within 12 hours, but symptoms can last for up to three days. If you suspect that your pet has eaten chocolate, don’t delay in calling your vet first for advice. Prompt veterinary treatment within the first six hours of eating chocolate can often be critical to a positive outcome. Your vet will want to know how much chocolate your pet has eaten and what type. If possible, keep any labels and wrappers and have the weight of your pet to hand.”
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and can last for up to three days. Initially, pets are likely to experience excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness. These can develop into symptoms of hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia and rapid breathing. Severe cases may result in fits and heartbeat irregularities, and even coma and death. If you notice these symptoms in your dog and suspect chocolate ingestion, seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
For more information on pets and toxic substances, download the free Animal Welfare Foundation ‘Pets and Poisons’ leaflet.