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Could Your Easter Celebration Make Your Pet Sick?

Candy Filled Baskets, Holiday Plants, and Egg Hunts: The Pet Dangers of Easter

Easter, the premiere holiday of spring, is a time for festive foods and bright decor catering to the whims of us humans. But, as April showers bring May flowers, Easter presents a variety of potentially toxic hazards for dogs and cats.

Chocolate and Other Easter Basket Contents

Chocolate bunnies, eggs, and other treats contain caffeine and theobromine (termed methylxanthines), which harbor toxic potential for pets, especially our canine companions. These stimulants are slowly metabolized by the canine liver and cause specific clinical signs pending the type and quantity of chocolate consumed in relation to a dog’s body weight.

Gastrointestinal, urogenital, cardiovascular, and neurologic systems can be adversely affected:

  •  Gastrointestinal signs include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and increased water consumption.
  •  Urogenital signs include increased urination or urinary incontinence.
  • Cardiovascular signs include increased heart rate and arrhythmia.
  • Neurologic signs include restlessness, muscle tremors, seizure activity, and in severe cases, death.

Baking chocolate and dark chocolate are the most dangerous to dogs, as they contain the highest quantities of methylxanthine stimulants per volume. More concentrated chocolate increases the likelihood that clinical signs of toxicity will be observed.

Semisweet and milk chocolate are less dangerous, but can still be quite toxic. Chocolate flavored commercial products and baked goods have the lowest concentrations of stimulants.

White chocolate has no potential for toxicity, as it lacks both caffeine and theobromine. Yet, this pale alternative may still make your dog sick due to the density of sugar, fat, alcohol, and other substances hiding beneath the foil wrapper. Gastrointestinal issues, like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), can ensue if your dog consumes white chocolate or other seemingly innocuous Easter treats (jelly beans, marshmallow bunnies, etc).

The VSPN has a Chocolate Toxicity Table to help pet owners determine if their pet’s chocolate consumption merits veterinary evaluation and treatment.

Besides candy, the Easter basket and plastic decorative hay can also be ingested and cause mechanical irritation to the stomach and intestines. Gastrointestinal distress or a foreign body obstruction (in the stomach or small intestines) can occur if your pet eats the grass, basket, or both. Obstruction typically needs to be resolved by endoscopy (fiber optic scope retrieval) or surgical removal, both of which require anesthesia, hospitalization and recovery time. These procedures are considerable expenses that can otherwise be avoided through proper planning and prioritizing pet safety.

Toxic Plants

All plants harbor the potential to cause illness post ingestion. The fibrous nature of plant material causes mechanical irritation to the digestive tract.

Plants belonging to the genus Lillium, (Easter Lily, etc) are especially dangerous to cats. All parts of the lily (flower, pollen, stems, leaves, and bulbs) can cause lethal kidney failure should ‘Fluffy’ opt for a taste.

Never leave a pet, especially your feline friend, unobserved in the presence of a seasonal plant. Their curiosity nearly always supersedes your estimation that the plant will go unscathed.  Hinder your pet’s access to interesting plants by closing doors or placing them out of harm’s way.

Easter Egg Rolls and Hunts

Having lived in Washington, DC, I’m always secretly envious of the children having the opportunity to participate in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Even as an adult, I would readily put on my Sunday best for the chance to frolic on the South Lawn with Barack, Michelle, and Bo Obama.

Although rolling eggs and finding those hidden during the hunt is great family fun, these activities could put your pet at risk for toxicity. Keep your pooch out of the action, as ‘Fido’ may capitalize on his hunting skills and gorge on the eggs intended for the eager children. After the hunt is complete, make sure all eggs are accounted for. A rotting egg may harbor bacteria, mold, or other toxic substances.

This Easter, and during all holiday festivities, keep treats and decorations out of the reach of your pet. Make safety a priority by educating your family members, especially children, about the canine and feline Easter dangers.

If you suspect or know your pet has consumed a toxic substance, immediately contact your veterinarian. Pending their counsel, further help may be needed. Two great resources in managing pet toxicities are the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) (888-426-4435) and the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680).

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