By Cheryl Lock
There’s a lot to love about Easter—time with family, egg hunts, candy aplenty—but this fun-filled holiday can be hazardous to pets.
“Easter is a time when you may bring different items into your home, like chocolate candies in foil wrappers, poisonous plants, and plastic objects, like eggs, toys, and synthetic grass, which can be dangerous if ingested by your pet,” says Dr. Brittin Ross, spcaLA director of Veterinary Services.
Keeping potentially dangerous items out of your pet’s reach is the best way to ensure his safety during the holiday, Ross says. But knowing the signs that your pet may have ingested something toxic is just as important. Our vet experts identify the most common Easter holiday hazards to watch out for, and the risks associated with each.
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine, says Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer with the American Kennel Club. “Both [ingredients] make chocolate highly toxic to dogs,” he says. “Cats may also be affected, but they generally tend to avoid sweet foods.” Dark chocolate and unsweetened, bitter chocolate are the most toxic, Ross says, because they contain the highest concentrations of the methylxanthines (theobromine and caffeine).
Signs your pet ingested chocolate can include hyperactivity, diarrhea, vomiting, elevated or abnormal heart rates, or even seizures. “Pancreatitis is also a concern when dogs eat chocolate,” Klein adds. “Chocolate ingestion can be an emergency, so pet owners should contact their veterinarian immediately if they suspect their cat or dog has consumed chocolate.”
To determine whether your dog has ingested a potentially dangerous amount of chocolate, go to petMD's Dog Chocolate Toxicity Meter.
Plastic grass, plastic eggs, foil wrappings, and Easter toys are popular fillers for Easter baskets, but they may also attract pets who can chew and swallow them. “The result can be obstruction in your pet’s digestive system,” Klein says. “These items can cause serious health problems such as a mechanical obstruction, gastroenteritis, or even pancreatitis. Often, these items have to be surgically removed to save the animal’s life.”
A pet who has ingested one of the above Easter basket items may exhibit vomiting, dehydration, weakness, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, pain, or bloating. Contact your veterinarian if you notice these signs.
While plain, cooked eggs can be part of a healthy diet for pets, it’s not a good idea for pets to eat raw eggs for the same reason humans shouldn’t: salmonella. Cases of salmonella from eggs are rare, Klein says, but why take the risk with raw eggs when cooked eggs provide the same nutritional value? “Also, consuming large amounts of raw egg white can lead to a biotin deficiency, which is needed for healthy metabolic, nerve, digestive, and cardiovascular functions,” he adds.
Biotin deficiency signs include skin lesions, dry coats, anemia, and lethargy. While ingestion of small amounts of raw egg will likely not cause any health problems in your pet, if you notice gastrointestinal distress (like vomiting and diarrhea), consult with your vet.
Most egg dyes are safe for consumption, but it’s always a good idea to make sure that the dyes you’re using are non-toxic before you buy them. “There are certain food dyes that have been found to be carcinogenic in mice, which raises some concern for pets as well,” Klein says. “It’s best to avoid feeding your pet any item with food coloring.”
While consumption of food products colored with food dye is not likely to cause an immediate adverse medical reaction, if your pet gets into a lot of food dye, contact your veterinarian or pet poison hotline immediately for advice. “Although an adverse reaction is unlikely, anytime a pet shows signs of distress through repeated bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, etc., the pet owner should contact their veterinarian as well,” Klein says.
Xylitol is a sweetener often found in sugar-free candy, sugar-free baked goods, and sugar-free gum. It can also be found in some common household items like toothpaste and vitamins. “Xylitol rapidly releases insulin into a dog’s bloodstream, causing an extreme drop in blood sugar,” Klein says. “It can also lead to liver failure and death.” Interestingly, dogs are actually the only species reportedly affected by xylitol toxicity, Ross says.
Lethargy, vomiting, weakness, and seizures are some signs of xylitol ingestion. “The ingestion of xylitol should be considered a medical emergency, and pet owners should contact their veterinarian or emergency center as soon as possible,” Klein says.
Fatty foods can lead to stomach upset, and in more serious cases, it can cause pancreatitis, which can be life threatening. “Even if your pet survives, pancreatitis can cause lifelong problems,” Klein says. “It’s also important that pet owners not give their pet ham bones or lamb bones.”
Fatty foods like those listed above may cause repeated vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, weakness, lethargy, and fever. Contact your vet immediately if you believe your pet has ingested something fatty—intensive medical care or even surgery may be required to save the animal.
Onions, garlic, chives, and leeks—as well as other members of the allium family—are toxic to dogs and cats. They can cause gastroenteritis and hemolytic anemia.
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, diarrhea, lethargy, pale games, and increased heart and breathing rates, according to Klein.
Alcohol is harmful to cats and dogs because of their small size (relative to humans) and how quickly the alcohol can hit their bloodstream. “This can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar and blood temperature, which can lead to seizures and respiratory failure,” Klein says. “All alcoholic beverages should be kept out of the reach of pets at all times.”
A pet who is lethargic, drooling, vomiting, or gagging, or has disorientation or difficulty walking, may have ingested alcohol.
Lilies are highly toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure or even lead to death if not treated properly. “Some ‘fake’ lilies, like lily of the valley, are also toxic to cats,” says Klein. “All parts of the lily plant can be deadly to cats, including the leaves, pollen, flower, and even the water the lilies are stored in. Prompt treatment after ingestion is needed to save a cat.” In fact, lilies are so toxic to cats, Klein recommends removing them from your home immediately if you have some.
Lily ingestion in cats can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, extreme thirst, seizures, and death. “Some lilies may also cause oral pain,” Klein adds. “The ingestion of lilies is a medical emergency for cats, and time is of the essence to save a cat’s life.”
Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs but not usually fatal.
Look for lethargy, vomiting, wobbliness, tremors, joint stiffness, depression, and increased temperature in a dog who has ingested macadamia nuts.