‘Tis the season … in which chocolate treats poison pet dogs, according to a new study from England. The research found that pups are four times more likely to go to the veterinarian for chocolate poisoning during Christmastime than any non-holiday time of the year.
The findings may help raise awareness among pet owners that Christmastime, and to a lesser extent Easter, are periods when dogs — especially young pups — tend to get chocolate poisoning, the researchers said in the study published online today (Dec. 20) in the journal Vet Record.
“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 Noble, a senior lecturer in internal medicine at the Institute of Veterinary Science at the University of Liverpool. [Why Is Chocolate Deadly for Dogs?]
Chocolate (Theobroma cacao) is poisonous to dogs because it contains theobromine, a stimulant that resembles caffeine. Theobromine is mostly harmless to people, but dogs and cats metabolize the compound much more slowly than humans do, meaning it can build up to toxic levels in their bodies, Noble told Live Science in an email.
Cats, however, can’t taste sweets things, so they don’t seek out sugary goodies, such as chocolate. Dogs, in contrast, will often do anything for a chocolatey treat, even though eating even small amounts of chocolate can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, Noble said.
At higher doses, chocolate can cause dogs to have agitation, incoordination and tremors, and at even higher doses, the substance can cause seizures, coma and death in dogs, he said.
To learn more about dog illness patterns, Noble and his colleagues analyzed records from 2012 to 2017 from nearly 230 veterinary practices in the United Kingdom. In particular, the researchers looked for vet visits related to chocolate poisoning around Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween.
In all, the investigators found 386 cases from 375 dogs, meaning that some dogs had been taken to the vet for eating chocolate more than once. One in four vet visits happened within 1 hour of the dog eating chocolate, and more than half occurred within 6 hours of the chocolate incident, the researchers found.