As I was sitting in church two weeks ago, I cringed as the pastor talked about ordering Easter lilies in time for the upcoming holiday. In fact, I took a picture of the church bulletin to show my clients just how common these church flower orders are!
Well, you may not know it, but veterinarians hate Easter. Not due to religious reasons, but due to the abounding increase in Easter lily poisonings we see in cats. I’m still amazed by how many pet owners are not aware of the pet poisons associated with the Easter holiday: Easter lilies, Easter basket grass, and chocolate.
When it comes to any "true lilies" (e.g., in the Lilium or Hemerocallis family, such as Easter, Asiatic, Oriental, Japanese show, tiger, and day lily), all parts of the lily plant are poisonous to cats — the petals, the leaves, the stem, and the pollen. In fact, even the water from the vase, when ingested by cats, is poisonous. As little as one or two leaves, or even a small amount of pollen while grooming their fur, can result in severe kidney failure in cats.
Thankfully, these types of lilies are not poisonous to humans or dogs. However, when ingested in large amounts by dogs, it can result in mild gastroenteritis (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, etc.).
In most situations, signs of lily poisoning in cats will develop within six to twelve hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Symptoms worsen as kidney failure develops (typically in 24-48 hours). Other signs include halitosis, disorientation, staggering, not urinating, and seizures. As there is no antidote for lily poisoning, keep in mind that the sooner you get your cat to the veterinarian, the better the chances of survival. Untreated, lily poisoning is fatal.
Treatment for lily poisoning includes inducing vomiting, administering drugs like activated charcoal (to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines), intravenous fluid therapy to flush out the kidneys (typically for 2-3 days), and monitoring of kidney function through blood testing.
This fake grass, often found in Easter baskets, poses a huge linear foreign body risk. When your cat or dog ingests something "stringy" like Easter grass, it can become anchored around the base of the tongue or stomach, rendering it unable to pass through the intestines. If it gets anchored, the passing string saws through the intestines slowly, resulting in severe damage to the intestinal tract. Fixing a linear foreign body typically requires expensive abdominal surgery, so do yourself the favor and keep anything stringy (e.g., Easter grass, tinsel, dental floss, string, yarn, ribbon, tape cassettes, etc.) out of reach.
And finally, chocolate. Why is it that all American holidays seem to involve chocolate? During the week of Easter, calls related to chocolate poisoning in dogs to Pet Poison Helpline increase by nearly 200 percent. While the occasional chocolate chip in one cookie may not be an issue, certain types of chocolate are very toxic to dogs. My hint? The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher the danger of severe poisoning. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest risk, so make sure to pet-proof your house well!
Why is chocolate poisonous? It’s because it contains a chemical called methylxanthine (a relative of caffeine). When ingested, it causes chocolate vomiting, chocolate diarrhea (yes, the vomit and diarrhea smell like chocolate), hyperactivity, a rapid heart rate, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and possibly even death. While fatalities are rare, I actually had a small Boston terrier die of chocolate poisoning a few years ago. It was heart-breaking, especially since the pet owner didn’t bring his dog in until it was over 24 hours later. By that point, the dog literally had chocolate coming out of its nostrils; he had been vomiting so profusely, he had aspirated vomit into his lungs and airway.
When in doubt, if you suspect your pet has been poisoned or gotten into something potentially dangerous, contact your veterinarian and Pet Poison Helpline at 855-213-6680 for 24/7 assistance!
What’s the worst thing your dog or cat ate over Easter holiday?
Dr. Justine Lee