With Easter fast approaching, many of us will be looking forward to relaxing over the four-day weekend and indulging in some delicious, chocolatey treats.

But whilst the holiday can be a joyful period of celebration with friends and family, it’s important for pet owners to remember that as chocolate can be toxic for our dogs and dangerous for cats, it’s vital to keep it out of reach.

Last year saw a 95% increase in cases over Easter compared to the following weekend and an 85% increase in cases related specifically to chocolate.

Dave Leicester, Head of Telehealth at Vets Now, said: “Unfortunately, we see a big rise in chocolate toxicity cases at Easter and it shows owners can never be too careful.

“Our advice is always to keep chocolate treats well away from your dog. As long as it’s treated early and there’s been no organ damage, the prognosis for chocolate toxicity is generally good. But we’d like to help pet owners avoid a trip to the emergency room over Easter.”

Why is chocolate harmful for our pets?

Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine which is poisonous and highly toxic for both dogs and cats. How toxic depends on the amount of chocolate your pet has consumed and smaller dogs or puppies can be at a higher risk due to their size.

Dark chocolate and high % cocoa chocolate usually poses the highest risk but theobromine can still be found in milk chocolate.

How much chocolate is considered dangerous for a dog?

Cadbury’s Mini Eggs may be a popular Easter snack but a family-sized 270g bag is enough to cause toxicity in a medium sized (12-25kg) dog. It could also cause serious problems for small breeds weighing between 5 to 12kg.

A standard small bag at 80g could be a serious threat for toy breeds or puppies weighing 5kg or less – with as few as 6 mini eggs enough to potentially cause toxicity.

With the average chocolate Easter egg shell containing between 90 to 200g of milk chocolate, that on its own is enough to cause toxicity in medium-sized dogs and smaller dogs. A dark chocolate egg poses a much higher risk and even just 90g could be toxic for large dogs weighing 25 kg or more. With small breeds or puppies, that quantity could be life-threatening.

To help concerned pet owners deal in cases of suspected chocolate poisoning, Vets Now has developed an online chocolate toxicity calculator to work out whether your dog has eaten a
potentially toxic amount.

Simply put in your dog’s weight or size, the type of chocolate they ate and an estimation of the amount. A good tip is to look for wrappers or foil to guess how much has been consumed.

What are the first signs of chocolate poisoning?

The effects of chocolate poisoning usually occur within the first 12 hours of consumption and can last up to three days. The first signs to look out for are:

  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive thirst

If untreated, these clinical signs can then develop into hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia, and rapid breathing. In severe cases, dogs may even experience fits and heartbeat irregularities and some cases can result in coma or death.

Is chocolate dangerous for cats?

Chocolate may pose the biggest risk to dogs but it’s still harmful for cats. Whilst the exact amount that cats can consume before falling ill is unknown, it’s advised to be vigilant and deter your pet from consuming any. This includes baking chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate milk drinks.

What should I do if I fear my pet has consumed chocolate?

If you become worried that your cat or dog has eaten chocolate and is reacting badly, contact your vet straight away or, if it’s out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency service.

What else could pose a threat to my pet this Easter?

It’s not just chocolate you need to be mindful of when it comes to Easter celebrations. Hot cross buns contain dried fruits like raisins, currants, and sultanas which can cause kidney failure in dogs. As experts agree there is no exact ‘safe dose’ of grapes and raisins, it’s advised to avoid altogether for pets.

Nutmeg is also a common ingredient in hot cross buns but contains a toxin called myristicin which can cause mild stomach upset for your dog if eaten in small doses, and severe clinical signs such as increased heart rate, disorientation, abdominal pain, hallucinations and even seizures if eaten in large amounts.

Spring flowers, fatty foods, plastic packaging and alcohol can also be fatal for your pets so check out our blog on other hazards to stay clued up. There are more than 60 Vets Now clinics and hospitals across the UK that are open through the night, seven-days-a-week, and day and night on weekends, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur.

All of Vets Now’s premises have a vet and vet nurse on site at all times. Vets Now also offers an online video consultation service to make professional veterinary advice easily available from home.