Health and wellness

Why chocolate should not be a Christmas treat for your dog – it is poison to them

New research shows small doses can cause vomiting or diarrhoea but if your pet chomps down big chunks it can suffer from muscle tremors, seizures, internal bleeding or even a heart attack

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 10:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 10:53am

While Christmas may be a time of sweet indulgence for humans, for dogs it is a period of heightened risk of chocolate poisoning, experts warn.

With edible tree decorations, sweet-laden advent calendars and gift boxes aplenty, chocolate becomes “more accessible” meaning dog owners must be extra vigilant, a University of Liverpool research team said.

When dogs eat chocolate, small doses can cause vomiting or diarrhoea, while large quantities can lead to muscle tremors, seizures, an irregular heartbeat, internal bleeding or even heart attacks.

It is responsible for about a quarter of all acute canine intoxication cases.

“Chocolate ingestion has a unique seasonal pattern,” the researchers wrote in the Vet Record journal after scrutinising five years of data on chocolate poisoning from 229 British veterinary practices.

Chocolate ingestion has a unique seasonal pattern
University of Liverpool researchers

Such cases increase fourfold over Christmas compared to the rest of the year, they found; at Easter it was double.

Young dogs were more likely to eat chocolate than older ones.

“Sources of chocolate included bars and boxes of chocolate, Easter eggs, chocolate cake, liqueurs, chocolate rabbits, Santa Claus figurines, advent calendars, and Christmas tree decorations,” the research team wrote. One case involved a hot chocolate drink.

Reported doses were mostly small, and none were life-threatening, the team found.

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For dogs, the toxic element in chocolate is theobromine, with pet food maker Hills explaining on its website that while humans easily metabolise the substance, dogs process it much more slowly, “allowing it to build up to toxic levels in their system”.

Darker chocolate contains more of the substance, and less than an ounce (28g) of plain chocolate is enough to poison a 22kg dog.

“If you are worried or suspect that your dog may have eaten a large quantity of chocolate … call your veterinary surgeon immediately,” the company advises.

Chocolate is bad for cats, too, but they are less likely to eat it. Unlike other mammals, they do not taste sweetness. AFP

Soft drinks during pregnancy may increase asthma risk

While women have long been told to avoid drinking alcohol while pregnant, new research suggests they should also stop drinking soft drinks (or soda), which could cause health problems for the child later in life.

The study, published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society this month, was conducted through Harvard Medical School. It found that expectant mothers who drink an average of two sugary drinks a day are 63 per cent more likely to have kids diagnosed with asthma when they are seven to nine years old.

“Increasingly we’re understanding that the processes that put a kid on a trajectory for obesity and asthma start in pregnancy,” says Rosalind Wright with Icahn School of Medicine. “This may give us some clues to how early life programming of asthma starts in utero, and how we might intervene more directly to give children a healthy start.”

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The researchers said the correlation may be due to fructose’s potentially inflammatory effect on the child’s lungs. But the team also looked at the effects of fruit juice because it contains naturally occurring fructose.

“We don’t see evidence for the same strength of adverse effects from fruit juice,” Harvard nutrition professor Emily Oken says. “That may be perhaps because fruit juice also contains vitamins and other anti-inflammatory factors.”

The team analysed data from 1,068 mother-child pairs. The women were asked about the number of beverages they drank daily, including sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices.

By mid-childhood, one out of five kids born to mothers who drank sugary beverages had developed asthma.

The researchers note they cannot prove sugary drinks cause asthma, but there is a correlation between the two. TNS

Eating leafy greens daily could help preserve memory in elderly

Eating one serving of leafy greens a day may stave off memory loss in old age and keep the brain more youthful, new research suggests.

The difference found between old people who ate greens and those who did not was stunning: the equivalent of being 11 years younger in age, said the study in the journal Neurology.

Researchers said it offers further evidence of the association between healthy eating and healthy ageing, though it was based on survey responses and could not prove cause and effect.

“Adding a daily serving of green, leafy vegetables to your diet may be a simple way to foster your brain health,” said study author Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago.

These observations are consistent with a broader body of evidence suggesting that people adhering to a Mediterranean diet may reduce their risk of dementia
David Llewellyn

The study tracked 960 people with an average age of 81, and followed them for an average of nearly five years. None had dementia upon entering the study.

Participants completed questionnaires that asked how often they ate certain foods, including spinach, kale, collard greens and lettuce. They also had their thinking and memory skills tested once a year.

People who ate the most greens averaged about 1.3 servings per day; the least ate about 0.1 servings per day. A serving is about a half cup, cooked.

People who ate at least one serving daily “had a slower rate of decline on tests of memory and thinking skills than people who never or rarely ate these vegetables”, the study said.

These results persisted even after accounting for such factors as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, education level and mental and physical exercise.

“These observations are consistent with a broader body of evidence suggesting that people adhering to a Mediterranean diet may reduce their risk of dementia,” said David Llewellyn, senior research fellow in clinical epidemiology at the University of Exeter, in the UK, who was not involved in the study.

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The Mediterranean diet is focused on plant-based foods, while limiting red-meat intake.

James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society in London, noted “the researchers did not directly look at dementia, so we cannot say that it would delay or prevent the onset of the condition”.

“However, older people who ate one or two servings of vitamin-K-rich food per day performed better on memory tests than those who didn’t,” he added.

“A healthy diet rich in essential nutrients, combined with regular exercise and avoiding smoking, can help to reduce your risk of developing dementia.”