Chocolate – the dangers to man’s best friend

As we enter the Easter period we are all too aware of the increasing amount of chocolate which is entering our supermarkets and soon our homes. Easter presents us with mountains of chocolate eggs and bunnies which not only seem tempting to us but also to our canine friends.

A shocking new survey from Dogs Trust has revealed that over 57% of pet dogs have eaten chocolate intended for humans and over 1 in 10 have become ill from it. Of these, 8% have died due to the effects and nearly a quarter have required urgent veterinary treatment.

To prevent the number of dogs that end up hopping to the vet with chocolate poisoning, Dogs Trust is launching a new “Chocs Away!” awareness drive to highlight the tragic consequences of feeding your dog human chocolate this Easter.

Sadly many dog owners are simply unaware of the dangers. Over 39% of dogs who ate human chocolate were given the treat by their owners and 61% found it themselves after it was left in easy to find places in the home.

The Veterinary Poisons Information Bureau (VPIS) lists chocolate as one of the top 3 causes of poisoning in dogs. This may seem remarkable to many, but just why is chocolate a problem in dogs?  Apart from the risks of obesity and the obvious dangers of eating the foil wrapping, the biggest risk of eating human chocolate is poisoning, resulting in an emergency dash to the vet and sadly even death.

Chocolate contains theobromine which is a central nervous stimulant. Although tolerated by humans, theobromine is extremely toxic to dogs. The darker the chocolate, the greater the amount of theobromine with dark chocolate containing typically 5 or 6 times more theobromine that milk chocolate. Toxic doses vary according to the size of dog and cocoa solid content of the chocolate. As a rough guide, Dogs Trust estimates that 50g of plain chocolate could be enough to kill a small dog, such as a Yorkshire Terrier, while just 400g could be enough to kill an average size dog.

So what are the signs? Well, they are usually observed within 4 hours of ingestion but sometimes it may take up to 24 hours. Vomiting, salivation, increased thirst, excitability and tachycardia (increased heart rate) are common signs with eventual collaspe and in very severe cases possible heart failure.

How much is too much? If more than 9 grams of milk chocolate per kg body weight are eaten or just 1.25kg of dark chocolate then poisoning is very likely. Furthermore, some chocolates may contain other products that can also be poisonous to some dogs such as raisins, peanuts and caffeine.

What treatment is there? Well, there are no specific antidotes. Affected dogs may need sedation, an intravenous drip feed and the contents of their stomach washed out under an anaesthetic. All of which would not really make for a happy Easter for anyone, especially your ppor dog!

So the take home message is that we would advise that you simply do not give chocolate to your dog at all, even in small amounts because if your dog develops a taste for choclate you never know when he may take advantage to steal any quantity accidentally left lying around..

Simon Robinson