Keeping Your Pets Safe at Easter

Posted April 11, 2017 @ 3:40pm | by Frank Swartzel, DVM

Many people look forward to the Easter holiday not only because it is a time to get together with family, but it also normally brings sunshine and warm weather. However, certain Easter staples can prove dangerous for your pets. Here are a few things to look out for:

Lilies, especially Easter Lilies, are a traditional Easter decoration.  Many people are unaware that lilies can be toxic to cats with symptoms including vomiting, depression, and anorexia developing within 6 to 12 hours after eating. The lilies cause progressive kidney failure, which can then lead to the development of neurologic symptoms (wobbly walk, seizures, disorientation). 

All parts of the plant are toxic. Often, cats develop toxicity from chewing or eating the leaves or flowers; however, signs have even been known to occur even via inhalation and then ingestion of the pollen or licking pollen from fur.

There are over 160 types of lilies. Only plants belonging to the genus Lilum (true lilies) and Hemerocallis (daylilies) have been associated with toxicity in cats. Other types of lilies, considered benign lilies (Peace Lilies, Peruvian Lilies, and Calla Lilies) usually only cause minor symptoms, including drooling.

Since most people are not plant enthusiasts and identifying species of lily can be difficult, we recommend that if you have a cat in your home, play it safe and avoid decorating with any type of lily.  Cats are curious creatures by nature and love to climb and explore, so they may even be able to access plants stored in places you think are off limits.  If something appears interesting, they will have the urge to investigate!

Any concern for lily ingestion or exposure should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. Cats are normally hospitalized because those that receive immediate and aggressive medical treatment have the best chance for recovery. 

Easter baskets are often filled with a variety of chocolate goodies and hidden in locations around the house that are easily accessible by dogs and cats alike.  However, our pets, unlike many people, may get sick from eating even very small amounts of chocolate. 
Toxicity varies depending on the type and amount of chocolate eaten with the least toxic variety being white chocolate and the most severe toxicities arising from ingestion of dry cocoa powder.  Remember, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it will be!  It is important to note that this dangerous toxin may also be lurking in your outdoor landscaping in the form of cocoa bean mulch.  This form of mulch should never be used in homes with pets. 
The toxic ingredients in chocolate are methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine, which lead to the development of symptoms within 6 to 12 hours after being eaten.  Initially, symptoms usually include gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea) and restlessness and may progress to neurologic symptoms (tremors, seizures, and disorientation), arrhythmias, respiratory distress and even death.  

Any ingestion warrants an emergency consult with a veterinarian for appropriate treatment. Treatment varies, from decontamination to in-hospital supportive care. Both dogs and cats can be affected. 

Xylitol is a low-calorie artificial sweetener used in many home-baked and purchased sweet treats. Recently, manufacturers have been adding it to other products as well--particularly medications.  When a dog eats xylitol, severe blood glucose abnormalities and liver failure can result. Following ingestion, symptoms can develop in less than 30 minutes and may include weakness, depression, vomiting, a wobbly walk and even seizures. These symptoms occur due to the rapid drop in the dog’s blood sugar levels. Any ingestion of a product thought or known to include xylitol requires immediate veterinary attention. 

Easter Baskets and Decorations 
One of the biggest joys many people have is seeing the excitement and delight on the faces of children when they hunt and hunt and finally discover their beautiful Easter basket stuffed with treats.  However, as much amusement and pleasure as these baskets provide for children, they can also prove to hold some very dangerous objects for your pets.  

Ornamental grass used to decorate Easter baskets appears to be the perfect toy to your curious kitty.  Many cats are tempted by this crinkly, string-like material that seems to be an ideal chew toy.  If swallowed, cats can develop an intestinal blockage which may be life-threatening and that will likely require surgical removal. 

Plastic eggs which conceal sweet treats and toys look like great chew toys for dogs. Dogs can accidentally inhale plastic eggs, leading to obstruction of the upper airway, then suffocation. If the dog eats the plastic egg, his intestines can become block, and he may require surgery. 
Playful children may also think it is fun to tie pieces of ribbon, grass or decorative string around pets’ ears, tails or limbs constricting blood flow and leading to swelling, pain and in some cases, severe tissue trauma.     

As the Easter holiday approaches, it is important to be aware of dangers your pet may face.  If you are ever concerned for your pet’s well-being, do not hesitate to contact or visit your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital to assure immediate treatment for the best possible outcome.  

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