Warning to dog owners as sweet treat binge almost proves fatal

Chocolate lab Koko lived up to his name and breed when he scoffed a huge stash of sweet treats and ended up needing life-saving treatment.

Koko wolfed his way through an entire box of After Eights, two family packs of chewy sweeties, two packets of Jaffa cakes and a Chocolate Orange – while his unsuspecting owners were out.

“It was a ridiculous amount to have eaten, I really didn’t think he was going to survive,” said owner Fiona Connolly, 50, from Dumbarton.

But 12-year-old Koko was saved by staff at our pet emergency hospital in Glasgow who worked tirelessly to make him better.

Now mum-of-three Fiona is warning other owners to keep chocolates and other dangerous foodstuffs away from their pets.

Image of a dog who ate chocolate and almost died for Vets Now article
Koko at home with Fiona's daughter, Karis, and his partner-in-crime Keira

Fiona and husband David, who have another Labrador, Keira, know Koko is keen on scavenging food so are usually ultra-careful.

“He’d steal anything and after he got hold of an Easter egg a few years back we always keep everything out of his way,” said Fiona. “We had all the chocolate and treats from Christmas shut away in another room, but unfortunately not out of sight.”

Fiona and David were away for the night and sons Martin and Nathan had briefly left a door open. Koko got out, pushed open two other room doors and, in just 10 minutes, devoured the confectionary mountain.

“The boys phoned to say he wouldn’t eat his dinner and they’d just discovered what he’d done,” said Fiona. “I know chocolate is dangerous, but my first thought was actually the damage all the chewy sweets could do.

“His stomach was swollen and he was trying to be sick but nothing was coming up. They said he was looking really bad, so we phoned our vet straight away and as it was the evening we were referred to Vets Now.”

The vets were brilliant. Their positive attitude kept us going but it was difficult as we were all blaming ourselves for what had happened.

Fiona Connolly Koko's owner

Chocolate contains several ingredients that are bad for dogs, including fat, sugar and caffeine.

But the most toxic ingredient is theobromine, which, ironically, comes from cocoa. Dogs aren’t able to break down, or metabolise, theobromine like humans and it mainly affects their guts, heart, central nervous system and kidneys. In cases like Koko’s, it can also cause potentially fatal heart arrhythmia.

Theobromine is particularly prevalent in dark chocolate such as After Eights.

Jelly sweets can also be dangerous as they often contain artificial sweetener, xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs.

Koko was rushed straight to our hospital in Glasgow. It’s one of a national network of pet emergency hospitals and out-of-hours clinics open seven days a week.

Because of the seriousness of his condition, he required one-to-one care and overnight monitoring for four days.

“It was an awful lot of sweets to eat and his stomach was really bloated,” said emergency vet Lara Brunori. “He was vomiting, had significant diarrhoea and also a very high heart rate, so we had to closely monitor his heart and blood pressure.

“After doing x-rays and blood tests, we decided to decompress Koko’s stomach overnight. He was also given activated charcoal to absorb the toxins from the sweets he’d eaten.

“Thankfully, after stabilising him and bringing down his heart rate, Koko began to pick up. We’re all over the moon to hear he’s much better now as he was such a lovely boy and we really bonded with him.”

Image of a dog who ate chocolate and almost died for Vets Now article
Handsome Koko

Fiona added: “When we saw him on the first day he was so lethargic he was lying like a rug. He couldn’t even recognise us and I didn’t think we were going to get him back. I was howling with tears when we were going home.

“The vets were brilliant. They were really honest with us and told us they thought he had a chance although they were concerned he wasn’t picking up and responding as quickly as they hoped.

“Their positive attitude kept us going but it was difficult as we were all blaming ourselves for what had happened.

“One of his Christmas presents was a mug with his and my daughter Karis’s picture on it and we were thinking that may end up being a memorial.”

But the family got the news they’d been praying for four days later when they were told that, though still weak, Koko had come through the worst and they could collect him.

“It was so joyous to have him home,” said Fiona. “He was still showing the effects and it’s only in the past few days that we can see he is fully back to his old self.

“I can’t stress enough how grateful we are to Vets Now and just how important it is to keep chocolate and sweets well out of the way. It can only take minutes for something bad to happen.”

Urgent treatment may be needed if your dog has eaten chocolate or products containing xylitol so please contact your vet as soon as possible for advice or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic immediately.