Christmas Brings Chocolate Poisoning Warning For Dogs

Suzanna Dixon with her French bulldog puppy Narla

In a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Vet Record, University of Liverpool researchers analyzed United Kingdom electronic veterinary medical records and discovered a "significant peak" in canine chocolate poisoning during the Christmas season.

Dogs don't react well to certain chemicals in cocoa beans and eating chocolate can lead to vomiting, irregular heartbeat, signs of agitation or seizures. The British researchers hope that their findings will raise awareness and help dog owners prepare by being more careful with what candies they leave unattended around the house.

Between 2012 and 2017, 386 cases of chocolate poisoning involving 375 animals were reported at nearly 230 veterinary practices in the UK.

According to the report, dog poisonings were four times as common around Christmas and twice as common around Easter than periods outside of chocolatey holidays, the South Wales Argus notes. None of the symptoms were considered life threatening in any of these cases. Around Christmas time, canines were four times likelier to get chocolate poisoning. Valentine's Day and Halloween were not unsafe times for theobromine dog poisonings, perhaps because the study was not done in the U.S.

Advent calendars, Christmas tree decorations, Santa Claus figurines and gift box selections were among the confectionery items devoured by dogs. "Given the frequent use of emetics in animals with documented non-toxic doses of theobromine, further research into the risks and consequences of emetic therapy is indicated", the authors wrote in their paper.

Vets will need to know what kind and how much chocolate the dog ate - wrappers are a good way to find this out - and how much the dog weighs in order to apply the right treatment.

"We thought this was a useful message to put out around Christmas to help owners avoid an unwanted visit to the vet", said study co-author P-J Nobel, a senior lecturer in internal medicine at the Institute of Veterinary Science at the University of Liverpool. This can matter since milk chocolate has less theobromine than dark chocolate, for instance.

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