How to protect your pet from chocolate poisoning
We might enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but did you know that even a small bar of dark chocolate could be deadly for your pet? We’ve put together some advice on keeping your pet safe from chocolate poisoning.
In 2019, our PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report found that thousands of owners still give their pet human chocolate as a treat – even though it could be deadly. While it might seem harmless, not all the food we eat are also safe for our pets. In fact, chocolate is just one of many foods that could be deadly if our pets get their paws on them!
Why is chocolate so bad for pets?
Chocolate contains something called theobromine which is very harmful to our pets. Chocolate with a higher cocoa solid content (usually dark chocolate) has more theobromine in it. You can find out how much cocoa solid is in a chocolate bar by checking the ingredients. High quality, dark chocolate is usually the most toxic to your pet but it's best to keep all chocolate away from pets to be safe as even milk chocolate and be dangerous if eaten in the right quantity.
Which pets are at risk?
A lot of people already know that chocolate is toxic to dogs but it can be deadly for other pets, too, including cats and rabbits.
Most of the cases of chocolate poisoning we see each year involve dogs. Dogs are naturally curious and are opportunists when it comes to food, meaning they’ll eat anything they find. This is why they’re more at risk from any chocolate left in easy reach.
Our vets see pets who’re suffering from chocolate poisoning all year round. But with more chocolate in our homes at Easter and Christmas, we see more cases at these times of year.
The signs and symptoms of chocolate poisoning
You’ll usually notice the effects of chocolate poisoning within 4 hours of your pet eating it. These symptoms can last for up to 24 hours.
Symptoms can include:
- Being sick
- Drinking more than usual
- Being restless and not settling.
In really severe cases your pet can start fitting and might suffer from kidney failure. In the worst cases, your pet could die from eating chocolate.
What should I do if my pet eats chocolate?
If you think your pet has eaten chocolate, you should contact your vet for advice immediately. The sooner any treatment begins, the less severe the effects will be for your pet. Keep the chocolate packaging to hand so your vet will have an idea of how serious your pet’s poisoning might be.
Some chocolate is more toxic than others, but it’s always better to be safe and contact your vet just in case. You can use this handy calculator to work out the potential risk to your pet, but we'd always recommend calling your vet anyway.
Keeping chocolate away from pets
Most cases of chocolate poisoning happen when your pet accidentally gets hold of chocolate while you’re not looking. Try to store chocolate in the same way as you would medicine or cleaning products – safely, securely and well away from your pets.
If you’re giving chocolate as a gift to a pet owner, let them know they’ll need to keep it out of reach of curious paws.
Easter egg hunts are really popular during Easter. If you’re thinking of having one, keep pets out of the way during the hunt and while you set it up. Make a note of where all the eggs where hidden so you can check they’ve all be found before you let you pets back into the area.
Alternatives to chocolate
We know that you want to include your pet in festivities and family events but it’s never worth risking your pet’s life. If you want to include them at Christmas or Easter, here are some safe alternatives to feeding them chocolate:
- A healthy, pet-safe treat. There are lots of healthy treats made for pets. This is a much better option that giving them human food. Be careful though – feeding your pet too many treats alongside their normal food can make them put on weight or upset their stomach.
- A new toy. Your pet will really appreciate a new toy. It will last much longer than a piece of food and will keep them happily occupied.
- Your love and attention. This is what your pet wants more than anything. They don’t need any food treats (especially not toxic chocolate) so long as they’re loved and looked after.