Dog and Chocolate

Pet owners should keep sweet treats away from furry companions over the Easter weekend, to avoid chocolate poisoning, and an emergency trip to the vets.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is issuing the warning based on findings from its Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, which revealed that eight in ten vets (80%) working in companion animal practice saw at least one case of chocolate poisoning in the lead up to Easter 2019. More than half (54%) of these vets had seen three or more cases in this period.

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, meaning that even a tiny amount of chocolate can result in toxic levels, especially for smaller dogs and puppies.

Raisins and sultanas, found in hot cross buns and simnel cakes, can also be dangerous for dogs and cats if ingested.

Vets often see a spike in chocolate toxicity cases over celebratory periods such as Easter and Christmas. With people and pets spending more time at home together due to Covid-19 restrictions, there is an increased risk with easy access to treats.

BVA Senior Vice President, Daniella Dos Santos said:

“Many of us will be looking forward to indulging over the long Easter weekend, but keep any sweet treats out of reach of curious pets. Chocolate is 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 we are all currently spending more time indoors, it is worth remembering to not leave treats lying around. Cats and other pets may be less inclined to sniff out and eat chocolate than dogs, but they can also suffer with chocolate poisoning.

“If you suspect that your pet has eaten chocolate, don’t delay in calling your vet first for advice on bringing it into the practice. The quicker the animal gets expert veterinary advice and treatment, the better. Your vet will want to know how much chocolate your pet has eaten and what type. If possible, keep any labels and have the weight of your pet to hand.”

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity

Prevention is always better than cure, but if your animal does consume chocolate, seeking veterinary care straight away is vital.

Dogs will usually start showing signs of chocolate toxicity within 12 hours, but symptoms 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.