Your dog probably enjoys the holidays as much as you do. People are around, there's lots of food and excitement, and less fortunately, there is often lots of chocolate.

More dogs end up at the vet poisoned by chocolate around Christmas and New Year's than at any other time of year, with the possible exception of Easter, according to a survey of electronic medical records in the United Kingdom.

If your dog eats chocolate, talk to your vet as soon as possible. Ideally, you should be prepared to quantify the amount and type of chocolate consumed.

In most cases, the amount of chocolate eaten was very small, but chocolate can poison dogs even in small amounts if it contains a caffeine-like stimulant called theobromine. Dogs that get into chocolate will exhibit symptoms that may include an upset stomach, a racing heartbeat, dehydration, seizures and, in the most severe cases, death. The best protection is to keep chocolate away from them. But your dog may not agree.

“Dogs love a chocolate treat and at Christmas there are plenty about. Sadly dogs can't eat chocolate safely so many of them end up making an unplanned visit to the vet, which can disrupt the celebrations,” the lead author of the study, Peter-John Mäntylä Noble, explained.

Noble, a Senior Lecturer in Internal Medicine at the Small Animal Teaching Hospital, University of Liverpool, England, offers some tips: “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.”

The number of dogs taken to UK veterinary practices for eating chocolate during the week between Christmas and New Year's was double that during any other week during the study. Younger dogs were likelier than older ones to be the victims, but there was no specific breed that seemed to be more at risk than others. If there's a silver lining, it's that none of the dogs died.

Chocolate isn't the only holiday hazard facing pets. Owners need to be vigilant about bones and tinsel and other holiday fare. Put food where pets can't reach it, or put pets away from food. Be sure bones are placed in the trash and the trash is placed in containers that pets can't open.

You can read the full article in Vet Record.