Warning: owners who allow their pets to eat chocolate this Easter could be left with a veterinary bill running into the thousands!
According to the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), chocolate is dangerous and potentially fatal for dogs. The bitter alkaloid ‘theobromine’, found in the cacao plant, is what makes chocolate toxic for dogs. The NZVA advises that a standard 200g block of dark chocolate contains around 1400mg of theobromine – potentially enough to kill a small dog of around 7-14kg, and cause tremors and seizures in large dogs above 20kg.
“The cacao beans are ground to produce chocolate liquor which is then made into chocolate. More chocolate liquor in a product means more theobromine, resulting in higher toxicity,” says Dr Cath Watson, president of NZVA’s Companion Animal Society. “Baking chocolate, therefore is the worst, followed by semisweet and dark chocolate, then milk chocolate. Chocolate flavoured cakes or cookies and white chocolate have the lowest toxicity.”
A toxic dose of theobromine for a dog can be as low as 20mg per kilogram of weight, whereby vomiting and diarrhoea and hyperactivity may result.
So a bag of Easter eggs left accidentally somewhere easy for your canine friend to reach could prove to be a very expensive purchase if you don’t have pet insurance!
Dr Liisa Ahlstrom, Bayer Australia, Technical Service Veterinarian, says treatment for chocolate-related illness could cost up to $1,500, depending on the breed of dog and severity of the case. Out-of-hours charges are also likely to see the total bill increase significantly.
Dr Ahlstrom advises pet owners to be aware of the symptoms of chocolate poisoning, which include restlessness, hyperactivity and nervousness, as well as trembling, vomiting and diarrhoea. A dog may also experience an increased heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm, difficulty breathing, increased temperature and seizures. If owners have concerns that their pet has consumed chocolate, they should take them to a vet immediately.
James Crowley, a vet on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, says these types of incident are common and speed is of the essence – for the animal’s health, and the cost likely to be incurred for treatment. Vets could induce vomiting if the ingestion was recent, but if not, owners could face a hefty bill.
“In severe cases, dogs will need intense monitoring by vets and nursing staff, muscle relaxants, medication to control their heart rates and rhythm, and possibly anti-seizure medications. This could cost over $1,000 – and there is no limit based on the length of hospitalisation and owner compliance,” he said.
Some costs are likely to be covered under accident and illness or comprehensive insurance, but pet owners are encouraged to check their policy carefully for common exclusions, which could also include things like pre-existing conditions, obstetrics and diseases that can be vaccinated against, like kennel cough.
If your dog consumes (or you suspect it has consumed) chocolate, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your regular clinic is closed for the holidays, details of an alternative clinic will be provided on their answer phone service.
Other things your dog shouldn’t eat
Even though dogs will happily sniff, roll in and sometime eat all sorts of stomach-churning stuff they come across in the garden or mark, their constitution is surprisingly delicate in terms of a few other fit-for-human-consumption items, including:
Nutmeg. It’s more of a Christmas ingredient than something used at Easter, but if you are using it in any Easter recipes, keep it out of your dog’s reach. Nutmeg can cause dogs to suffer from tremors, seizures, issues with the nervous system and even death.
Grapes and raisins. It’s grape season – but too many grapes can cause acute kidney failure in your dog, so save them for the kids.
Avocados. A bit of an expensive treat for a dog anyway, but avocados contain a dangerous toxin which can damage the heart, lungs and tissue of many different animals, including Fido. Fortunately the effect in dogs is usually mild – but don’t risk it!
Onions and garlic. It’s amazing what some dogs will crunch into; both onions and garlic can cause gastric irritation and anemia if eaten in large quantities, so be mindful of this when preparing turkey stuffing or Christmas vegetables.
Alcohol. If you’re celebrating the Easter season with a few drinks, be mindful that your dog might lap up anything in half-empty glasses or spilled drinks.