With Easter comes a deluge of chocolate. And while for some, this brings nothing but happiness, (and occasionally an over-inflated waistline), for man's best friend it could mean death.
Kevin, an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, learnt this the hard way when he was 12-months-old, reports news.com.au.
Upon getting the kids ready for school one morning, Kevin's owner, Lucy Muir, caught the dog scarfing down a 70 per cent coco dark chocolate block. He ate everything but the cardboard.
Mrs Muir told news.com.au: "I could've caught it straight after he did it, but I got so cranky at my son who left the storage cupboard open. And then I got cranky at Kevin for eating it, and then I got cranky at myself for getting so cranky.
"I took my kids to school and I just left it, because I didn't realise that chocolate was like poison to dogs. I just thought it was something they shouldn't eat. It wasn't until about eight hours later that I took him to the vet."
Mrs Muir said it was actually a friend who alerted her to the seriousness of the problem, and then she noticed Kevin's troubling behaviour.
"He was getting considerably hyper all throughout the day. It was fidgety; he was just running in and outside, and going here there, darting everywhere. He didn't bring his ball in to play with like he usually does when he wants a game. He was panting ... that's when I googled it."
After Mrs Muir rushed Kevin to the vets, he was administered fluids, along with charcoal to bind the chocolate. After being kept overnight for observation he made a full recovery.
It is the two compounds, caffeine and theobromine that make chocolate poison to dogs - and, for the non-discerning little blighters, sadly, Easter is when most cases of chocolate toxicity occur.
PetSure vet, Dr. Oliver Conradi, told news.com.au: "We see approximately 1000 cases of chocolate toxicity throughout the year so it is very common. And during the Easter period we see a massive surge, about a 200 per cent increase in cases compared to the average for the rest of the year."
Dr Conradi explained that two factors dictate the severity of chocolate toxicity cases.
"First of all, it depends on whether it is milk chocolate or dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has much higher concentrations of those toxic compounds. Secondly, it comes down to the size of the dog. For instance, take a little French Bulldog, a small breed dog approximately between 5-10kgs. If they were to have, say, a medium size Easter bunny made out of dark chocolate, that might contain 75-100g of chocolate, that would be enough to result in death or severe symptoms.
"Whereas, if you take a Labrador, so a 30kg dog, to cause those really severe clinical signs they might need between 300-400g. That would equate to eating three or four of those medium Easter bunnies." he said.
So what should you watch out for if you suspect your pet has eaten chocolate?
Dr Conradi explained that there are a range of clinical symptoms that can present - it all depends on how much chocolate the dog has consumed.
"If they've only got a small amount of chocolate and it is of low level toxicity, then they may have some mild gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhoea, also restlessness, increased urination and drinking. With a higher dose of chocolate then the more severe clinical signs lead to seizures, tremors, and arrhythmias - an abnormal heart rate. If they've got a really big dose of chocolate, it can lead to death," he said.
He added, "Even if there is just a suspicion your dog has eaten some chocolate, time is of the essence. There's a window of three hours. After three hours, the food moves from the stomach into the intestines, and once the chocolate is in the intestines we can't get it out again."
Treatment in these cases become much harder, as it's not a simple case of making the dog vomit.
"All we can do at that point is support them through the toxicity, which involves putting them on IV fluids and we can try and mop up the chocolate in the intestine with charcoal," Dr Conradi said.
Early detection is exactly what saved the life of Cookie, a six-year-old Cavoodle and two time survivor of chocolate toxicity.
Lisa Shabtay, Cookie's owner, told news.com.au: "In the first instance, as soon as I could catch her, I took her straight to the vet. I had always been told, from the minute I got her, that chocolate, among a few other food groups, is a no no for dogs. I rushed her to the vet and they induced vomiting. She brought up the chocolate and the wrapper. It was revolting but they got it out of her."
How can you avoid this happening to your beloved pooch, you ask? The answer is surprisingly simple.
"Be aware that chocolate can cause illness in dogs. Don't leave it around, keep it in a cupboard not just lying around on a table," Dr Conradi said.
"Educating kids about the dangers is also important. Teach them that chocolate is great for people, but for dogs it can cause problems. Warn them not to leave chocolates lying around after Easter so the dogs don't get into them," he added.
Mrs Shabtay agrees.
"It's very important for families to tell children they cannot leave any food, not just chocolate, in reach. Everything has to be in a cupboard or in the refrigerator, especially at this time when there is a lot of chocolate around over Easter. Kids AND adults.
"I think it's just not being complacent with food at any time, and really just remembering that if you left something in front of a baby they're likely to explore and taste it; it's the same with dogs, if they see food they're going to eat it."
You can take Cookie as a perfect example of that.