LIVERPOOL, England — Christmas may be the sweetest time of year for many families, but that means it can also be the most dangerous time of year for dogs, according to a new study.
Researchers at Liverpool University warn that cases of dogs ingesting chocolate skyrocket around the holidays. Chocolate, of course, is a well-known “poison” for pooches because of a stimulant called “theobromine” that can cause dogs to suffer from an vomiting, elevated heart rate, dehydration, seizures, and even death in rare cases.
The authors looked at cases of chocolate ingestion in dogs from 229 veterinary clinics in the United Kingdom between 2013 and 2017. Among the 386 cases they found, they looked to determine whether holidays — specifically Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas — seemed to play a role in the cases.
They found that chocolate poisonings were four times more likely to occur around Christmas and about twice as likely on Easter. There was no noticeable uptick on Valentine’s Day nor, perhaps surprisingly, Halloween.
“Dogs love a chocolate treat and at Christmas there are plenty about. Sadly dogs can’t eat chocolate safely so many of them end up making an unplanned visit to the vet, which can disrupt the celebrations,” says study leader and veterinary researcher Dr. P-J Noble in a news release.
While breed of dog didn’t seem to stand out when it came to the poisonings, the researchers found that dogs under 4 years old tended to be the most common patients. Symptoms of chocolate ingestion typically were seen within six hours, though some pets were rushed to the vet within an hour of eating the toxic treat.
The most frequent symptom reported was vomiting, which occurred in just 17 percent of the cases. Just under 8 percent of the puppy patients suffered from a racing heartbeat, while about 3 percent showed signs of restlessness, agitation, or other neurological issues.
None of the cases dealt with the more serious life-threatening symptoms.
Noble warns that while it’s important for families to leave snacks out for Santa Claus, owners should be extra vigilant to perch them in places that pets can’t reach — or at the very least, to simply avoid leaving out chocolate.
“People should keep festive chocolates away from pets. If chocolate is consumed, owners should talk to their vet as soon as possible, and ideally be prepared to quantify the amount and type of chocolate consumed,” he says. “Information on the chocolate packaging may help the vet take the best action. While many cases of chocolate-eating are not at toxic levels, where they are, it is better to see the vet quickly.”
The study’s findings were published this week in the journal Vet Record.
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