Easter Pet Hazards
By Dr. Nelson Bricker, Veterinarian
As the weather begins to warm and Easter and Passover are upon us, it seems to be followed by a unique set of appointments in the veterinary office. Here are the top hazards to pets we see cause problems year after year, so you can help avoid them.
From bunnies and eggs to coins, chocolate still remains one of the most common toxicities to occur this time of year and can range from mild stomach upset to life threatening. Different chocolate types will have greater or less risk associated with it, depending on how concentrated the Cacao is. Bakers and very dark chocolate is the most concentrated and toxic, with white chocolate having almost none of the main toxic component (methylxanthines such as caffeine). While the sugar and fat in chocolate can cause some vomiting or diarrhea in any pet, those that eat a lot of chocolate, or really concentrated dark chocolate may experience extreme excitation, including tremors, seizures, and fatal heart arrythmias. The faster a vet can see pets that have eaten chocolate, the faster we can determine if the dose was toxic, and prevent the majority of serious signs from occurring.
Easter Lilies are a staple of the holiday. While they may represent spring and rebirth, lilies contain chemicals that are deadly toxic to cats. All parts of true lilies contain the toxins, and only small amounts of plant, sap, or pollen may be needed to cause kidney failure. Even cats seen immediately after exposure by a vet hospital may not respond to treatment, and go into kidney failure within days. Prevention is the most important, and all lilies should be kept far away from cats. Make sure to note that Peace Lilies and Lilly of the Valley are not true lilies and while both are toxic, they would cause different problems that are often less severe.
Of all the things that animals get into, one of the more frustrating for owners and veterinarians is when pets ingest the shredded green cellophane that makes up Easter grass. They may ingest the grass with the chocolate or eggs in the basket, but when this material is ingested, it does not digest, causing stomach irritation, and it often creates large obstructions that will not pass and can be frustrating to remove endoscopically. This leaves many pets needing surgery to remove the foreign material. Using natural basket fillers such as paper or hay is generally considered safer.
Sugar Free Candy
Sugar free candy often uses Xylitol as a substitute sweetener. This sugar-alcohol has toxic side effects in dogs, ferrets, and some other animals. This chemical interferes with blood sugar levels, causing them to drop in sensitive species dramatically. At high levels, we can also see damage to the liver, enough to cause failure. Liver failure can even develop without the drops in blood sugar, but can generally be prevented with medical management. Once eaten, this sweetener is often absorbed quickly and is not stopped by activated charcoal, so decontamination generally doesn’t prevent signs from occurring.
This is a bit of a broader topic that could have a whole entry itself, but this time of year, spring is bringing a great number of mushrooms, plants, animals, lawn treatments, bugs, and allergens with it that can spell problems for pets. What this means for owners is that it is a good time to pay extra attention to your pets, make sure they do not get into anything hazardous, and watch for any signs of illness. Common abnormalities include vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, shaking, lethargy, itching, coughing, or difficulty breathing. If you notice anything, make sure your vet knows.
With a bit of care, this can be a great time to spend with our family, including our pets. I hope everyone has a wonderful start to the spring, and keeps their pets safe and happy!
If you think your pet may have ingested a toxin, please call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control for assistance over the phone at 1-888-426-4435. They may recommend you bring your pet to a veterinarian and will consult with your vet on the proper care for any toxicity experienced. There is a fee for their service, but it will allow the fastest and most appropriate treatment for your pet.
And remember, Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital is open 24/7/365 for pet emergencies.