The Easter holidays are packed with fun things to do for all the family – both two and four legged members. From popular outdoor activities like egg hunts and countryside strolls, to inside food-related enjoyment like Easter eggs and big family meals. But we must make sure our pets are looked after, as some of the holiday treats that make us happy can be very dangerous, even lethal, for them.
The number one hazard at Easter is of course chocolate. Poisonous to all dogs, and the darker/bitter the more deadly. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine which can cause all sorts of symptoms if ingested, including panting, hyperactivity, diarrhoea, vomiting, elevated or abnormal heart rates, or even seizures.
Any suspected poisonings must be reported to your vet ASAP (there’s always a vet open 24/7 so no excuse) as time really is of the essence; vets can make your dog’s stomach empty, and provide supportive treatment, but this is most effective within two hours of suspected ingestion. If you ‘have’ to offer your dog an Easter egg, then please source a chocolate-free alternative containing dog-friendly carob for example, and keep all chocolate eggs well out of reach, even if they’re gift-wrapped.
Other potentially dangerous foods for dogs include lamb, due to bones and grizzle which can cause intestinal obstruction, and the string it’s often cooked in can also cause serious gut problems that may require surgery to fix. Foods containing xylitol, a sweetener often found in sugar-free sweets, sugar-free gum, toothpaste, and some brands of peanut butter must also be kept in a safe place.
Xylitol rapidly releases insulin into a dog’s bloodstream, causing an extreme drop in blood sugar, lethargy, vomiting, weakness, and seizures, and as with chocolate any suspect ingestion should be considered a medical emergency and veterinary help sought straight away. Both sweet and fatty foods can also cause pancreatitis, a very painful condition requiring extensive treatment and often hospitalisation.
Onions are often used in cooking at Easter (and the rest of the year) and these can also be toxic to dogs and cats, causing gastroenteritis and life-threatening haemolytic anaemia. Signs of ingestion of these foods may not develop for several days, but when they do, your pet could exhibit nausea, drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, pale gums, and increased heart and breathing rates, so make sure they’re checked out if you’re at all worried.
Macadamia nuts are also toxic to dogs but not usually fatal; look for lethargy, vomiting, wobbliness, tremors, joint stiffness, depression, and increased temperature in dogs with suspected ingestion. Other edible doggy dangers include hot cross buns containing sultanas and raisins, which can cause kidney failure; as well as common Spring bulbs, like daffodils and tulips, which can lead to an upset stomach, painful abdomen, and accompanying vomiting/diarrhoea.
Lilies are highly toxic to cats and will cause kidney failure or even lead to death if not treated properly. Prompt treatment after suspected ingestion of pollen or any part of the plant/flower is needed to save a cat. In fact, lilies are so toxic to cats, it’s recommended that no cat households should ever have them, so please remove them immediately if you’ve already bought or been given some already. Lily ingestion in cats can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, extreme thirst, seizures, and death, and any suspected ingestion is clearly an urgent medical emergency to save the cat’s life.
Finally, with Easter being a common time of visitors coming to your house, please make sure all children and anyone unfamiliar with approaching an animal, especially nervous pets, are well-briefed or dissuaded, and that your four-legged friend has constant access to a quiet space in which to chill out, eat, drink water, well-away from any stress. Make sure all pets are microchipped too (law for dogs) in case they panic due to noise or strangers in their house and escape. Some pets may even benefit from pheromone plug-ins to reduce anxiety.