A Holiday Message from Laura 2018
Don’t forget that that while some dogs love the hustle-bustle of the holiday season, many find it stressful. Dogs like routine and may find changes to their environment difficult to cope with. It is really important to stick to feeding and walking times! Luckily we can do things to help them feel comfortable and relaxed, so here are a few suggestions:
- Sticking to routines and creating a dog-only zone for your dog will help to alleviate stress. Find a place your dog likes and set it up with a comfy area to sleep with subdued lighting and noise reduction (especially important if you’re having a lively party) and make sure water is readily accessible. Except for family members, keep people out of the dog zone but don’t forget to go in and give your dog some loving attention and to take it out for a comfort break.
- Keep an eye on folks when they’ve had a few drinks because they can accidentally step on your dog or drop food that isn’t good for your pet. They are also more likely to approach your dog in a way that causes it concerns.
- Make sure to keep dogs and children safe. Best to ensure that children and dogs are always monitored when together and insist that children leave the dog alone when it wants the space. If children make your dog nervous do not allow contact!
One of the biggest dangers to dogs at Christmas is chocolate, and because many people still think feeding dogs chocolate is OK, I’m going to tell you why chocolate is so dangerous.
Some foods not only make your dog ill but can kill. Chocolate is particularly dangerous at Christmas because there is so much of it around – on the tree, in advent calendars, wrapped in packages, in bowls and stockings. Dogs like the smell and taste of chocolate and will seek it out, especially if you treat your pooch with dog chocolate. The only way to keep your dog safe is to keep chocolate in a location your dog can’t reach at all times.
Feeding chocolate to a dog is playing Russian Roulette with its life. Yes there are dogs that are fed chocolate and appear to have no ill effects, but how toxic any chocolate is to a dog depends on several factors: the size of the dog, the amount of chocolate eaten and the type of chocolate consumed.
Different types of chocolate will have different toxicity levels due to the amount of cocoa present. White chocolate has so little cocoa that toxicity will be low but it could still create digestive discomfort. White chocolate also contains high levels of sugar and cocoa fat and this can cause pancreatitis in some dogs that may not show up for several days.
Milk chocolate is the least toxic, while dark chocolate or baking chocolate could easily kill even a large dog. Only 1.3 grams of chocolate per kilo of body-weight creates dangerous levels for dogs.
Tolerance of chocolate will differ depending on the size of the dog, small dogs being at a higher risk than large dogs.
PetMed has a brilliant toxicity measure online that can help to identify chocolate-toxicity danger levels based on the size of the dog, the type of chocolate eaten and the amount ingested. The address is: https://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity
However, a sensible owner will never risk feeding human chocolate to their dog.
So why is chocolate toxic for dogs? Chocolate contains methylxanthines, theobromine and caffeine all of which are toxic for dogs. It is the theobromine that gives chocolate its depth of flavour and that is why darker, stronger-tasting chocolates are more toxic. Though individual dogs will have varying levels of tolerance, if a dog is fed chocolate several times throughout the day, the amounts can easily accumulate and reach the dog’s toxic threshold.
Methylxanthines are distributed throughout the body by being absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, metabolised by the liver, and excreted in urine. However, methylxanthines can be reabsorbed back into the intestines and recirculated into the body through a process known as enterohepatic recycling which increases toxicity and puts stress on the liver.
The half-life of theobromine in the chocolate (the amount of time it is active) is 17.5 hours and for caffeine it is 4.5 hours. As dogs take longer to digest chocolate than humans do, they could easily have high doses of toxins circulating in all parts of the body over an extended period, leading to serious illness or death. Further, the slower digestion process means that evidence of toxicity can be delayed by 6-12 hours so that it may not be obvious that a dog has been poisoned. This can have serious implications for prompt and effective treatment. Symptoms are likely to progress slowly, starting with increased thirst, diarrhoea, abdominal distension and vomiting. Over time symptoms may turn to tremors, seizures, ataxia (lack of coordination) and increased urination.
When chocolate is ingested, behavioural changes begin with the dog becoming restless and agitated, which can later develop into hyperactivity/hypertension, while regulation of body temperature may become erratic. If the dose of chocolate is high enough, then cardiac dysfunction ensues leading to abnormally low blood pressure or even coma. Death is usually from heart or respiratory failure, or hyperthermia.
There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning so stabilisation is a priority. If chocolate is still present in the stomach, vomit-inducing medicine is given to remove undigested toxins. Medical charcoal may also be fed to the dog to help absorb the toxins. Low-level seizures and tremors may be treated with benzodiazepines, and barbiturates may be used for more severe seizures. If a dog survives, it may still need to be treated for seizure and cardiac dysfunction for several days. In severe cases, the symptoms of poisoning can last for up to 72 hours, but even after this period a dog will continue to need time to convalesce and recuperate.
When we realise how poisonous chocolate is, why would anyone risk their dog eating it? There are plenty of treats for your dogs to enjoy that they will love and aren’t harmful. Put those chocolates on the high shelf and ask people giving you chocolate to let you know which package mustn’t be left under the tree. If you’re having a party, put the chocolates away. I love chocolate and eat plenty over Christmas, but my dogs definitely don’t!
Whatever, you do have a great holiday season and a belting Hogmanay!
All the best,
Laura and the family.