With Easter upon us, many households’ supplies of chocolate have rocketed in the last week and so, a survey out today suggesting that over half of UK vets treated pets for chocolate poisoning last Easter, brings into focus the dangers of allowing pets to have access to Easter Eggs.

I would warn all dog owners to keep Easter treats away from pets after figures released today revealed that over half of UK vets (54%) had treated at least one case of chocolate poisoning over Easter 2014 and seven practices had treating ten cases each. Regionally, East Midlands saw the highest average number of cases, with vets in the area seeing two cases of poisoning each on average.

Chocolate can be highly poisonous to pets, with dogs most commonly affected. Although awareness about chocolate poisoning is increasing amongst pet owners, we still see urgent cases at our 24 hour centre because chocolate treats have not been secured out of reach.

Chocolate is toxic because it contains theobromine – a naturally occurring chemical found in cocoa beans which dogs and other animals metabolise much less effectively than humans. The level of toxicity is dependent on the type of chocolate – dark chocolate and cocoa powder is most toxic – and the size of the dog, with smaller dogs and puppies being most at risk.

The effects of chocolate poisoning in dogs usually appear within 12 hours and can last up to three days. First signs can include excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness. These symptoms can then develop into hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia and rapid breathing. In severe cases, dogs can experience fits (seizures) and heartbeat irregularities and some cases can result in coma or death.  

Easter should be a happy time for all the family including loved pets, and I would urge pet owners to take precautions to ensure that their pet does not become one of the thousands of cases treated for accidental chocolate poisoning, which tragically can sometimes be fatal. The majority of the cases we see are because a pet has accidentally managed to get access to chocolate despite the owner’s best intentions.

Dogs in particular have a keen sense of smell and will easily win at any Easter egg hunt! So wherever chocolate is being stored over Easter, make sure it is pet proof and stored out of reach of inquisitive and determined noses and paws.

If you suspect that your dog has ingested chocolate don’t delay in contacting your vet. The quicker we can offer advice and treatment, the better. We will want to know how much chocolate your dog has eaten and what type. If possible keep any labels to hand.