With Easter fast approaching it’s a good idea to highlight the dangers of chocolate ingestion in dogs.

Susceptibility varies between dogs and also with the type and amount of chocolate ingested. White or milk chocolate is far less dangerous than dark chocolate. Theobromine is the dangerous component, and this is at much higher doses in cocoa powder and dark chocolate. It is a stimulant, like caffeine, and is poisonous to dogs. Theobromine is also present in tea, coco cola and some composts containing shells of cocoa beans.

Humans naturally break down theobromine at a fast rate, so we do not see any toxic side effects. Dogs however metabolise theobromine much more slowly so if eaten in large quantities it will build up in the body resulting in toxicity. Very young or old dogs or dogs with other underlying health issues such as diabetes or pancreatitis are also at higher risk.

If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate or catch them eating it then seek veterinary advice immediately. If you have a large dog that has only eaten a small amount of milk/white chocolate it may be advised to monitor your pet only but always check with a vet first. If your vet judges that the toxic dose could have been ingested they will advise as emergency appointment to induce vomiting. Ideally this needs to be within 2 hours of chocolate ingestion to be effective.

A vet can induce vomiting easily by giving an emetic injection. Whilst this is unpleasant for your dog (it will make them feel nauseous) it is much safer than trying to make your dog sick at home by giving them an irritant such as bicarbonate of soda. Once the vet has given the injection vomiting will occur within 5 minutes and usually lasts about 10 minutes. your dog should be back t normal within an hour, although this does vary.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting and diarrhoea, increased breathing and heart rates, tremors, wobbliness and seizures. At this stage it is too late to induce vomiting and treatment must be put in place to manage these symptoms. This is done with intravenous fluids and drugs to manage any heart arrhythmia's or seizures. It is important to realise that fatalities can occur if the amount of chocolate consumed is excessive or appropriate treatment is delayed.

As the metabolic rate of all dogs is different there is not a definitive poisonous dose but we do have guidelines that can be used to indicate when medical intervention will be required.

A theobromine intake of over 20mg/kg can result in toxic signs. A rough guide to the levels in chocolate is 0.25mg per 25gr white chocolate. 50mg per 25gr of milk chocolate. 200-400mg per 25gr dark chocolate.

Better to be safe than sorry - keep chocolate products out of dogs reach at all times. Be vigilant with unopened presents as dogs can easily sniff out edible treats. If in doubt, contact your vet for advice.

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