03/26/2013 03:20 pm ET Updated May 26, 2013

The Truth About Dogs and Chocolate

What do Easter and Passover have in common? Religion aside, and especially if you're a kid, it's all about the chocolate.

This week's coinciding religious celebrations bring certain businesses to a standstill while ratcheting up other's. Perhaps at no other time in the year were so many chocolate bunnies, coins and eggs sold and eaten in one three-day period. Whether your ritual hides eggs or matzo, the general reward for either is a large dose of chocolate in a variety of forms. While that is celebratory for children (and many adults), it is something potentially deadly to a dog. Before you panic and induce your 100-pound golden retriever to vomit up an M&M, read this article to understand how much and what type of chocolate poses a real threat.

First, let me start by saying that holidays, regardless of what is ingested, are stressful times that require a mindful effort to attend to the needs of our dependents. Just because you are rushing to fulfill your holiday checklist does not mean that your dog or child will be any less needy. In fact, our stress pushes them to cling even more. Often, our distraction results in a host of attention-seeking habits that rarely jive with our very sensitive timetable. Children are more accident-prone, whiny, or delinquent; dogs are more impulsive and pushy. Such is life.

When impulsivity mounts, a dog generally has few other outlets other than stealing and scavenging. Your dog's first inclination will be to mirror your activities, pilfering items held in recent possession. Unlike cats who will "consider" the object before ingestion, a dog will generally eat first and suffer the consequences later. Chocolate, though not particularly savory in a dog's mouth, is often devoured, packaging and all.

Now the question comes down to what is it in chocolate that causes a reaction, and how much is dangerous? Is eating a Kit Kat bar, for example, as dangerous as eating a pound of baker's chocolate? The short answer is no, but here is why.

Dogs are allergic to the drug theobromine, which is an ingredient in the cocoa bean used to make chocolate. In concentrated form, even small doses, it is deadly. The dilution of the cocoa bean used in the formulation of milk chocolate, drink mixes and white chocolate limits its effect quite considerably. Concentrated cocoa is the most dangerous to dogs. Symptoms of poisoning include rapid breathing and increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, urinary incontinence, seizure or coma, and the effects may be drawn out as the effects of the drug are protracted.

If your dog ingests chocolate, try to gauge the amount and the type in relation to their size. Next, call your veterinarian or the SPCA poison hotline (have your credit card in hand). If a toxic level has been ingested your veterinarian will need to induce vomiting. Of course, prevention is worth 10 pounds of cure. Especially if those pounds are weighed in chocolate...