It is not unsurprising that we see a massive spike in chocolate poisoning during the Easter holidays. According to Statista 80 million Easter Eggs are sold each year in the United Kingdom, and a survey from 2017 found out that there is roughly 10,800,000 dog owners and roughly 8,100,00 cat owners in the United Kingdom, but does everyone know how to prevent chocolate poisoning?
NO DOG’S WERE HARMED IN THESE IMAGES, ROSCO WAS FED A NORMAL TREAT AS THIS WAS A TRAINING EXERCISE.
First, let’s understand why chocolate is poisonous to both dogs and cats.
The toxic element is theobromine, this a molecule which is made by plants and it is one of the many compounds that is found naturally in chocolate. Now, if you know your Periodic Table you might believe the element of bromine contributes to compound, but it doesn’t! In fact, theobromine is made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen! The name was invented by biologists who visited cocoa trees and plants in Central and South America, they came up with the name “Theobroma” and this relates to the family of all cocoa plants and trees. So where did the ‘ine’ come from on the end? Scientifically speaking, Theobromine is an alkaloid, which is a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds that all contain nitrogen. Alkaloids share the ‘ine’ at the their end of their name as it resembles their chemical group, like a chemical nick name!
Theobromine is the toxic element, it is made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, which is a compound in Coffee and Chocolate
Why is it toxic?
Theobromine is toxic and it can be extremely dangerous for dogs, this is because their digestive systems cannot process it efficiently compared our human guts, which is why it’s relatively easy for them to be poisoned. Cats are also at risk, but most cats are very fussy to what they will eat so, are therefore are less likely to eat sweets and chocolate! The amount of theobromine your dog ingests will determine the severity and toxicity, a small amount will cause vomiting and an upset stomach, whilst large amounts of theobromine can produce muscle tremors, seizures, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to something fatal!
There are a lot of research, blogs, and horror stories that be very scary! Whilst this may sound scary, i am purely providing you with everything you need to know about the toxicity! When Rosco ate a whole box of Thorntons chocolates and a fruit cake whilst i went food shopping, i was panicking he was going to die! When i phoned the vet in emergency hours, she provided me with a toxicity calculator, this identified the ‘toxic level and ‘ what treatment he needed. Luckily, it had only been an hour and half since Rosco indulged in his feast, which meant the chocolate hadn’t been digested, this means that the theobromine did not enter his system (yet).
The vet advised on a drug to make him vomit, along with a charcoal supplement for 2 days. As you can imagine, the highlight of my weekend was watching Rosco cover three consult rooms with vomit. It wasn’t nice, but it was vital, so if your dog ever eats chocolate- always consult with your local veterinary practice!
But, the annoying thing is the box of chocolates and the fruit cake was stored on top of a 5ft8 bookshelf, completely out of reach. And with Rosco’s arthritis, we did not expect him reach it!
Regardless where you hide your chocolates, how you can guarantee your dog won’t sniff them out? Just because your dog won’t try it when you are present in the room, doesn’t mean that they won’t seize the opportunity to indulge as soon as you are out the door!
Remember, dogs are opportunists, they will take opportunities and seek positive rewards and resources.
The other issue with chocolate and theobromine, is that it won’t make your dog immediately sick. So, when you dog is eating the chocolate (unaware of toxicity), it is a pleasurable experience, and they will want to repeat it and keep eating it! IF chocolate made dogs immediately sick when eating it, then dogs will less likely want to eat as it made them feel unwell! This is the principle of operant conditioning, a learning theory which suggests a positive or negative experience will predict an animals behaviour.
This is impossible to do and i don’t recommend trying it either!
HOWEVER…This is what you can do….
Teach Impulse Control
By teaching impulse control, your teaching self-discipline, which means your dog will develop the ability to control his urges and desires that we find inappropriate! Mastering this, will mean your dog will have the perfect Etiquette!
In regards to eating chocolate, you need to use the methods of ‘do this’ and ‘not that’. Dogs learn best in black and white and no grey areas, and will repeat the number of appropriate behaviours a lot more with positive rewards!
So, here is how we trained Rosco to not interact with the Dairy Milk:
We put the chocolate bar a feet a way from Rosco, if he went to interact with it, we used the cue ‘Eh-Eh’, which in translates to “don’t do that, try again”. As soon as he retracted his nose, we gave the marker‘ yes’ and gave him tasty treat! We then increased the distance between Rosco and the chocolate with the same method, to the point where Rosco did not care at all about the chocolate bar and got bored!
Remember to start slowly and be patient, depending on your dog’s motivation and arousal, it may take longer to conquer, if you dog is finding if difficult then increase the distance or have the chocolate bar in your hand: If he interacts with it, move your hand away with the cue ‘Eh-Eh’, wait 3 seconds and present the chocolate again- if he ignores it then mark that behaviour with a ‘yes’ and provide with a reward!
- Marker/Mark: identifies for the animal when it is doing the right thing, this can also a clicker
- Cue: is a hint, and guide to help the dog perform the correct behaviour that you will mark and reward.
Provide a command
We used an empty Easter Egg box to teach the command of ‘bog’, there is no meaning behind this word, its a word Kaylee likes to say and is easy for dogs to understand as it less likely come up in conversation and it is simple syllables. Be creative!
We created this super amazing box, which is filled with:
- Rosco’s breakfast, Autarky Dog Food
- Food Ball (filled with Autarky)
- Empty Egg Box
- Huxley Hound Dog Treats
- The Dog Deli’s Chicken Wrapped in Calcium Bone
- Empty packet of Venison Sausages- that still smells amazing, for dogs.
- Lintbell’s Yumove: To help Roscos joints and Arthritis!
We placed the Easter box on the floor, using the same method, ‘do this’ and ‘not that’, when Rosco approached or attempted to interact with the box we used the cue ‘Eh-Eh’, the behaviour we wanted was a calm and relaxed sit- once he did this then we marked it with a ‘yes’ and then said ‘Bog’ and gave him the box, which was the reward! and he loved it! With some dogs you may need to hold the box if they are super excited and have a high arousal level!
However, the ‘bog’ commands needs repetition and consistency for dogs to understand what it actually means, which can be achieved between 3-10 sessions depending on the dog!
- Command: is seen as a direct order and is given before a behaviour is learnt.
- Arousal: This is the level of energy a dog has, which is linked with behaviour outcomes and emotions.
Our top tips for this Easter:
- If your bedroom door can close, then hide your chocolate Easter eggs on the top shelf in your wardrobe and ensure your bedroom door is locked. This will also save the Easter Bunny time hiding them for his Easter Egg hunt.
- How about in an indestructible container? Check this out
- Do you have a trusted friend or family member who don’t have pets? Maybe ask a favour and see if they can look after your eggs!
- Set boobitraps! take your chocolate eggs out of the boxes and leave the empty box. If your dog gets the box down, then he won’t get anything out of it, and (hopefully) it can decrease the likelihood of him jumping up in the future.