While every pet owner worth their salt knows that chocolate is toxic to pets (more details below), that’s no reason for the four-legged members of your family not to join in some Easter egg hunting fun. You just have to think outside the (egg) box. Why not try this hide and seek game?
Start by getting some empty cardboard egg cartons and cut out the individual cups.
Put a little something inside each cup to tempt your pet – ideally some food with a strong smell. For dogs and cats this could be little tinned sardine or cooked chicken; for ferrets, try some hard-boiled egg; for rats, some slivers of banana and for rabbits a small cube of apple. For dogs and cats, four or five cups will be enough for them to find; for ferrets, rats and rabbits, two or three will be sufficient.
Show your pet one of the filled cups and let them sniff it. Then, with your pet out of sight, hide them. Choose hiding spots that relate to your pet’s ability to sniff, search and retrieve. For dogs that are new to nose work, place the cups at nose level where they can be seen fairly easily, such as at the bottom of shrubs in the garden. If you’re hiding cups for your cat indoors, pick a variety of spaces, high and low (that you know they can safely access) so they can have fun climbing up and down tracking down their treats. For ferrets, rats and rabbits, place a selection of cups around their run – hiding places can be more covert for cunning ferrets, such as within a tunnel.
Then, let your pet loose to sniff out their treats, supervising them at all times and using praise and encouragement to help them out if they’re not quite sure what the game involves. Chances are, they’ll soon cotton on.
Make sure you know exactly how many treat cups you’ve hidden so you know when they’ve all been found. You don’t want forgotten snacks left out in the garden or mouldering away behind a curtain.
Play it again
If this is a game that your pet responds to and clearly enjoys, why not try it with favourite toys?
Chocolate and pets: the facts
Never give your pets a little chocolate treat so they ‘don’t feel left out’ and ensure that Easter eggs are kept well away from determined scavengers.
The ingredient in chocolate that’s poisonous to pets is a bitter-tasting stimulant called theobromine. It’s naturally found in cacao beans, from which chocolate is made. Humans easily metabolise theobromine, but animals process it much more slowly, allowing it to build up to toxic levels in their system. This can affect the heart, central nervous system and kidneys. The amount of theobromine in chocolate depends on the type. Darker, purer chocolate tend to have the highest levels, but it’s also found in milk and white chocolate.
The effect of theobromine poisoning depends on the amount eaten and the size of the animal. For example, a Labrador-sized dog that’s eaten 200g of milk chocolate is likely to have a stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhoea. At 500g of milk chocolate, it’s likely that cardiovascular problems and increased heart rate will be seen. Eating 750g of milk chocolate may result in seizures. It’s important to note that some animals can be more sensitive than others and this can be irrespective of their size or weight. Theobromine poisoning can be fatal.
Symptoms occur between four and 24 hours after your pet has ingested theobromine and will vary depending on the amount. These may include:
- vomiting (may include blood)
- restlessness and hyperactivity
- rapid breathing
- muscle tension
- increased heart rate
If your pet has somehow managed to eat some chocolate and shows any of these symptoms, you will need to take them straight to the vet. Your vet will want to know:
- How much they’ve eaten
- What type of chocolate they’ve eaten (discarded wrappers can be helpful)
- How much your pet weighs
It can be hard to tell exactly how much your pet may have eaten and the amount of theobromine in chocolate varies, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution and contact your vet for advice if you’re concerned.