Keep Christmas Candy Away From Your Dog, Even If He's Been a Very Good Boy

Vet visits from chocolate poisoning spike around Christmas, according to a new UK study.

Dec 20 2017, 11:31pm

Cheryl Maeder/Getty Images; Michael Crabtree/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This holiday season, keep chocolate out of your dog's reach and definitely do not give any to him, no matter how much of a good boy he is.

It sounds like a common-sense recommendation. Chocolate contains caffeine-like stimulant called theobromine that can cause vomiting, racing heartbeat, dehydration, and seizures in dogs. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. In severe cases, eating chocolate can kill them.

But it’s an especially timely warning: A study by researchers at the University of Liverpool shows that chocolate ingestion cases in dogs hit a “significant peak” around Christmas. It’s four times more likely to be recorded around that holiday than any non-holidays. Easter, for the record, is also a dangerous time, when exposure is twice as likely as on any normal, humdrum day.

It’s worth noting that this paper is based on data from the UK. The researchers there found no significant spikes around Valentine’s Day and Halloween, though they acknowledge such increases have been found in the United States and Germany. That suggests geographical differences based on how different countries celebrate holidays, but they can’t say for sure that’s what’s going on.

To find this pattern, researchers analyzed electronic records from 229 UK veterinary practices between 2012 and 2017, looking for cases of chocolate exposure around Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, and Halloween, times when chocolate treats abound. They compiled 386 cases from 375 individual animals—meaning that, yes, some doggos were repeat offenders—and noted the dogs’ age, gender, and breed. Again, they found that chocolate ingestion cases were most common around Christmas, followed by Easter. Vet visits for chocolate exposure were more common among dogs ages 4 and younger and no breed was associated with an increased risk.

Most of the culprits only consumed a small amount of chocolate. But in more than a quarter of the cases (101, 26 percent) the dogs ate enough chocolate to show symptoms within an hour of ingestion; within six hours, that number was over half (217, 56 percent). Vomiting and elevated heart rate were fairly common; while neurological issues (agitation, restlessness) were less common. No seizures were reported, and none of the dogs had life-threatening reactions, which means we can learn from their mistakes without feeling too awful.

To reiterate: dogs love chocolate, and if it’s around they will try to get their paws on it. The Christmas spike in exposure hopefully isn’t because loving owners (or visiting family members) are spoonfeeding it to their canine friends—there are just more opportunities for dogs to get into something they shouldn’t when holiday treats are around. The researchers said common sources around Christmas were chocolate gift boxes, chocolate bars, chocolate cake, chocolate Santas, chocolate oranges, and Advent calendars. Around Easter, dogs come in after eating chocolate rabbits and Easter eggs, including one pooch who scarfed up an entire garden of the eggs hidden for children. Vigilance is your watchword.

P-J Noble, who led the study, boils it down thusly: "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. 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."

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