UK dog owners are being warned to keep Easter treats away from pets after figures released today from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) revealed that over half of UK vets (54%) had treated at least one case of chocolate poisoning over Easter 2014.
BVA's Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey that ran from 7 May - 8 June 2014 shows that on average vets saw at least one case of chocolate poisoning over the Easter 2014 period, with seven practices treating ten cases each. Regionally, East Midlands saw the highest average number of cases, with vets in the area seeing two cases of poisoning each on average.
Chocolate can be highly poisonous to pets, with dogs most commonly affected. Although awareness about chocolate poisoning is increasing amongst pet owners, the BVA figures show that the majority of vets still see 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 and other animals excrete much less effectively than humans. The level of toxicity is dependent on the type of chocolate - dark chocolate and cocoa powder is most toxic - and the size of the dog, with smaller dogs and puppies being most at risk.
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 can experience fits and heartbeat irregularities and some cases can result in coma or death.
Vet John Blackwell, BVA President, said:
"Easter should be a happy time for all the family including loved pets, and BVA urges pet owners to take precautions to ensure that their pet does not become one of the thousands of cases treated for accidental chocolate poisoning, which tragically can sometimes be fatal. The majority of the cases we see are because a pet has accidentally managed to get access to chocolate despite the owner's best intentions.
"It's worth remembering that dogs in particular have a keen sense of smell and will easily win at any Easter egg hunt. So wherever chocolate is being stored over Easter - inside or outside - make sure it is pet proof and stored out of reach of inquisitive and determined noses and paws 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. If possible keep any labels and have the weight of the dog to hand.
"Make sure you know how to contact your vet out of hours and over the bank holiday weekend when opening hours may be different. If you are away from home, use the RCVS's Find a Vet online service [http://findavet.rcvs.org.uk/find-a-vet/] to find a veterinary practice in an emergency."
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