Easter 2014: Should you let your dog eat chocolate eggs?

Chemicals toxic to dogs found in chocolate can have serious affect on our pet's health

For a human, a few too many Easter eggs can be seen as a bit indulgent and lead to an afternoon on the sofa in a self-inflicted chocolate coma.

But for a dog it can be potentially life-threatening and, in the most extreme cases, result in a rather painful death.

Dog owners are being warned to be on high alert this Easter and ensure the chocolate is hidden away to ensure dogs are not harmed as a result of chocolate poisoning.

With more instances of discarded Easter Eggs or half-eaten Crème Eggs lying around at Easter than at other times of the year, it is a potential minefield for canines all over the country, and can result in many becoming ill – or even die.

In 2013, a report by Veterinary Poisons Information it was found that there were over 600 reported cases of dogs suffering from chocolate poisoning - the third most common reason for pet owners to get in contact with them.

This is supported by recent findings from a study carried out by LV=Pet Insurance, which found that there are almost double the number of claims by dog-owners as a result of chocolate poisoning at Easter and Christmas than at any other time of the year.

With more chocolate being bought this Easter than any other, this number is likely to grow.

The reason for this toxicity is due to a natural chemical in the cocoa bean called theobromine. Easily digestible by humans, theobromine cannot be broke down by the dog’s digestive system and becomes toxic to dogs, having a serious effect on their nervous system and heart.

This has led to many calling for extra vigilance from dog owners this Easter, to ensure that their pets are not affected.

LV Pet insurance manager Julie Constable said: “As the Easter weekend approaches and people have more chocolate in the home than usual, we're reminding those with dogs and cats to keep it well out of their reach.”

Nicola Bates from The Veterinary Poisons Information Service supported this and warned dog owners to "keep chocolate out of sight, unless they want an expensive trip to the vets."

Like with most poisons the toxic impact is dependent on the size of the dog.

Heavier dogs are far less likely to be affected by the same amount of chocolate than those of a smaller size.

For example, it would take just one tablespoon of dark chocolate to severely damage Britain's smallest breed of dog the Yorkshire Terrier, while 5 tablespoons would lead to a labrador becoming seriously ill.

Yet, it is not only the amount of chocolate that can have effect on how badly a dog reacts. The level of cocoa and the darkness of the chocolate can also have an effect. With darker chocolate containing more of the toxic theobromine than milk chocolate, less is needed to have an adverse effect.

Symptoms of concern for owners can be anything from vomiting, to rapid breathing, to seizures and need to be acted on to ensure that there are not more fatal consequences.

PDSA senior vet Elaine Pendlebury explains: "The effects of chocolate poisoning in dogs usually appear within four hours of eating, and can last as long as 24 hours.

"Initial signs can include excessive thirst, vomiting, a sore stomach and restlessness.

"These symptoms can then progress to tremors, an abnormal heart rhythm, raised body temperature and rapid breathing.

"In severe cases dogs can experience fits, kidney failure and can even die."

The advice from LV’s Constable is: 'If a pet does get hold of some chocolate and eats it, then their owners should contact a vet for advice straight away.'