Pete The Vet: Keep Easter eggs away from dogs this weekend
The importance of keeping chocolate away from dogs.
Name: Patrick McCauley from Co Wicklow
Animal: Harry, his seven-year-old
Background: Harry stole an Easter egg from the bag of a visiting friend
Harry has always been a hungry dog: he just loves food. Over the years, this has caused some problems — he is prone to scavenging, eating anything at all that he finds, whether around the home, in the garden or out on walks. As a result, he’s suffered from repeated bouts of gastroenteritis over the years, and the McCauleys have to keep him on a strict diet. This has worked well, and he is a fit, trim, healthy dog, with a shiny coat.
Harry still needs to be watched closely — if there is ever a chance to scoff something edible within range, he’ll do it.
Last Friday afternoon, Harry’s hungry habit nearly caused a big crisis. It was the last day of school, and four of Patrick’s friends came to his house to play with Nerf Guns. They were all excited, and as they rushed into the house, they dumped their school bags in the hall. Each of the bags contained a medium-sized Easter egg that they’d been given at school. Four of the bags were zipped up, but one had been left half unzipped. Dogs have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell, and Harry must have picked up the aroma of the five chocolate bags. Within minutes of the boys arriving, he was out in the hallway, sniffing the bags, and discovered the bag that was open.
Patrick’s mum happened to come out into the hall at that moment, and she found Harry with his nose buried in the purple tinfoil of a half-eaten Easter egg. He’d managed to rip off the cardboard outer casing, and he was happily munching the chocolate. She grabbed it off him at once, but he’d already managed to scoff a quarter of the chocolate egg.
Chocolate is a common poison of pets: it contains theobromine, a naturally occurring chemical found in cocoa beans which dogs and other animals metabolise much less effectively than humans. The chemical gives humans a pleasant buzz, but because pets aren’t able to process it so well, it accumulates in their bodies, soon reaching toxic levels. The risk of poisoning depends on the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder carry the biggest hazard, with milk chocolate being less dangerous, and white chocolate containing no theobromine at all.
The effects of chocolate poisoning in dogs start within 12 hours, with excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness. Later, pets develop hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia and rapid breathing, sometimes going on to have fits, then coma and death.
The poisonous effect of chocolate is worked out on a “dose per kilogram” basis. If a terrier eats a whole Easter egg, it’s like a Labrador munching eight eggs. You can see why it’s rare for large breeds to die of chocolate poisoning, but common for little animals to get into trouble. A medium-sized Easter egg shell contains around 100g of chocolate. Emergency treatment from your vet is needed if a 6kg terrier eats as little as 20g of dark chocolate or 80g of milk chocolate. The limits for a 30kg Labrador would be five times this: 100g of dark chocolate or 400g of milk chocolate.
Patrick’s mum phoned her vet at once: an over-the-phone calculation was done to work out the risk. Harry weighed 9kg, so he’d need to eat at least a whole milk chocolate egg to be at risk. If he’d eaten that much, he would have been rushed to the vet for his stomach to be emptied. Luckily, he had only eaten a quarter egg, so all was well.
From now on, all chocolate in the McAuley household is going to be put safely out of Harry’s reach.