More than half of UK vets treated pets for chocolate poisoning last Easter, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has warned.

Dog owners are being urged to keep Easter treats away from pets after figures released from the veterinary group revealed 54% of vets had treated at least one case of chocolate poisoning last Easter.

The BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey – which ran from May 7 to June 8, 2014 – revealed on average vets saw at least one case of chocolate poisoning over the Easter 2014 period, with seven practices treating 10 cases each.

Regionally, the east midlands saw the highest number of cases, with vets in the area seeing two cases of poisoning each on average.

Chocolate can be highly poisonous to pets, with dogs most commonly affected. Although awareness about chocolate poisoning is increasing among pet owners, the BVA figures show the majority of vets still see urgent cases because chocolate treats have not been out of reach.

The effects of chocolate poisoning in dogs usually appear within 12 hours and can last up to three days. First signs can include excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness.

These symptoms can then develop into hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia and rapid breathing. In severe cases, dogs can experience fits and heartbeat irregularities, while some cases can result in a coma or death.

BVA president John Blackwell said: “Easter should be a happy time for all the family, including loved pets, and the BVA urges pet owners to take precautions to ensure their pet does not become one of the thousands of cases treated for accidental chocolate poisoning, which, tragically, can sometimes be fatal.

“The majority of the cases we see are because a pet has accidentally managed to get access to chocolate, despite the owner’s best intentions.

“It’s worth remembering dogs in particular have a keen sense of smell and will easily win at any Easter egg hunt. So wherever chocolate is being stored over Easter – inside or outside – make sure it is pet proof and stored out of reach of inquisitive and determined noses and paws to avoid an emergency trip to the vet.

“If you suspect your dog has ingested chocolate, don’t delay in contacting your vet. The quicker we can offer advice and treatment, the better. Vets will want to know how much chocolate your dog has eaten and what type. If possible, keep any labels and have the weight of the dog to hand.

“Make sure you know how to contact your vet out-of-hours and over the bank holiday weekend when opening hours may be different. If you are away from home, use the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Find a Vet online service to locate a veterinary practice in an emergency.”

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