Curious pets could be at risk if they hunt down their owners' haul of chocolate eggs and treats this Easter, warns the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
Chocolate can be highly poisonous to pets, with dogs most commonly affected. Although awareness about chocolate poisoning is increasing amongst pet owners vets are still seeing urgent cases because chocolate treats have not been secured out of reach.
Chocolate is toxic because it contains theobromine - a naturally occurring chemical found in cocoa beans which dogs, for example, excrete much less effectively than humans. The level of toxicity is dependent on the type of chocolate, with dark chocolate and cocoa powder being the most toxic, and the size of the dog, with smaller dogs and puppies being most at risk.
BVA President Robin Hargreaves said:
"Every year vets treat thousands of cases of chocolate poisoning in pets and sadly the poisoning is sometimes fatal. The majority of the cases we see are accidental chocolate consumption. Dogs have a keen sense of smell and can easily hunt down hidden Easter eggs.
"Owners should try to store chocolates well out of reach of their animals to avoid an emergency trip to the vet at Easter.
"If you suspect that your dog has ingested chocolate don't delay in contacting your vet. The quicker we can offer advice and treatment the better. Vets will want to know how much chocolate your dog has eaten and what type.
"Make sure you know how to contact your vet out of hours and over the bank holiday weekend when opening hours may be different."
The effects of chocolate poisoning in dogs usually appear within 12 hours and can last up to three days. First signs can include excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness. These symptoms can then develop into hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia and rapid breathing. In severe cases dogs show fits and heartbeat irregularities and some cases can result in coma or death.
The Animal Welfare Foundation provides information on a range of household items that may be poisonous to pet animals in its leaflet 'Pets and Poisons' which can be downloaded from http://www.bva-awf.org.uk/pet-care-advice/pets-and-poisons.