As Easter approaches, there will be an abundance of chocolate buying and the hiding of Easter eggs around the home and garden. Unfortunately, this happy activity can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences for your family dog. Dogs can easily sniff out those hidden treats and you may find yourself facing more of an emergency than a missing egg or bunny.Chocolate poisoning accounts for 20% of poisonings in dogs : in the last 12 months the Pet Emergency Hospital in Dublin saw 135 dog poisonings of which 68 were caused by chocolate, 37 by rodenticides, with another 20 consisting of human drugs, batteries, bleach and cleaning products. (Statistics provided by Interchem).
Is Chocolate really harmful?
Chocolate is derived from the roasted seeds of Theobroma cacao, which contains certain properties that can be toxic to animals: caffeine and theobromine. If ingested, these two ingredients can also lead to various medical complications and may even prove fatal for your dog. The level of theobromine is 3 to 10 times greater than that of caffeine, although the exact amount varies according to the cocoa beans and type of chocolate. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain significantly more than milk chocolate or white chocolate. The fatal dose for a dog is somewhere between 100 and 200 mg per kilogram of body weight, but severe signs of toxicity and even death can occur at lower levels. Theobromine is more slowly absorbed by the dog’s digestive system than in humans and has a half-life of 17 ½ hours. Because of this, symptoms may not appear for many hours after the chocolate is eaten. Do not be fooled by this into thinking that everything is OK. Clinical signs occur within 6-12 hours of ingestion The earlier this is treated the more likely you are to save the dog's life. In addition to this, the very slow deactivation of theobromine by dogs means that the effects of chocolate poisoning can be very prolonged - up to three days, so your dog may need to be hospitalised for all this time. The first signs of theobromine poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and increased urination. Hyperactivity, body rigidity or ataxia(a neurological sign consisting of lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements) can then follow. You may notice signs of rapid breathing, and an increase in heart rate, together with a rise in body temperature. These can progress to cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, internal bleeding, heart attacks, and eventually death.
What to do if you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate.
If at all possible, try to ascertain how much, and of what type of chocolate has been ingested. This will help the vet to determine whether toxicity has reached sufficient levels for veterinary intervention. If the dog has not started to vomit, it is likely that the chocolate has been eaten within the previous six hours and so the vet will induce vomiting to prevent further absorption, followed by an intestinal adsorbent, such as activated charcoal. Intestinal adsorbents slow, or prevent the absorption of toxic substances from the intestines. However, if the dog has already started to vomit, then the vet will administer drugs to prevent further vomiting and then give supportive treatments for the symptoms.
As there is no antidote for theobromine poisoning, prevention is crucial to the safety of the dog, so enjoy your Easter chocolates, but remember to keep chocolate away from your dogs.