Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Apr 5, 2023 | Fast Facts, General Health

Take Care to Avoid These Spring Health Hazards for Pets

“Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way.” That bouncing holiday tune was about an iconic rabbit. But when it comes to Easter goodies, our dogs and cats also come into play.

Unfortunately, many common Easter staples that we grew up with can pose a significant threat to our pets if eaten. Springtime in general offers up a slew of colorful attractions that can be no less dangerous.

Here are some of the most common spring health hazards affecting dogs and cats, and suggestions for pet parents if they suspect injury or illness.

  1. Easter Flowers

Though a traditional holiday staple and centerpiece, Easter flowers can be toxic and even fatal to curious cats who often like to nibble on them. Dogs, too, can fall prey to their charms, frequently through digging in the family garden. And though it’s not quite as common, better safe than sorry.

“Basically, the answer to all plant ingestion is going to be to call your vet or your emergency veterinary hospital,” says Doylestown’s Dr. Lois Palin, VMD.

This Easter, pet parents should be aware of the most usual suspects from the plant world:

  • Lilies: “Lilies can be toxic to both dogs and cats, but much more so to cats,” Dr. Palin says. “All parts of the Lilly are dangerous – and that even includes the pollen and the water in the vase. A very small amount can affect cats.” Symptoms, she notes, typically begin with gastrointestinal (GI) upset. “But what can happen is it can then start to impact their kidneys and cause pretty severe injury.”
  • Hyacinths: Toxic to both dogs and cats, hyacinth ingestion can cause intense vomiting, diarrhea – sometimes with blood, depression, and may also lead to tremors.
  • Tulips: “Tulips are an oral as well as GI irritant,” Dr. Palin says. “People will often see their cats and dogs drooling excessively, and then they might start seeing the GI symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.”
  • Daffodils: Flowers from the narcissus genus, like daffodils, also affect an animal’s mouth and GI tract. Ingestion often manifests with many of the same symptoms as tulips. Large amounts can also cause seizures and hypotension (low blood pressure). “You might also see tremors and it can cause heart arrhythmia which is an irregular heartbeat,” Dr. Palin says, noting that when it comes to hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils, the bulb itself is the most dangerous part of the flower.

If you are looking for a safe centerpiece for your holiday dinner, the ASPCA recommends flowers from the orchid family to brighten up a household during holidays while simultaneously keeping pets safe.

“Orchids are a great alternative if you must have flowers in the house,” Dr. Palin says.

  1. Chocolate, Sweets, and Other Food Items

Believe it or not, Easter tops Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and even Halloween as the top day for chocolate intoxication calls concerning pets, according to the ASPCA.

“Chocolate is more of a problem for dogs,” Dr. Palin says. “And that’s probably because they’re more likely to sniff it out and eat it. But in large amounts, it can also be toxic to cats.”

Chocolate contains two problematic chemicals, she says. Theobromine is the predominant compound impacting animals. “And then, of course, there’s caffeine, which is found in much lower concentrations.”

Toxicity, she adds, is not solely dependent upon the amount of chocolate eaten, but the type. This can make Easter a particularly dangerous holiday thanks to the sheer assortment of goodies available.

“For instance, dark chocolate contains the highest amounts of toxic components, and white chocolate the least,” Dr. Palin says. “Often, that can be a little difficult to determine, because you may have chocolate fillers or baking products – it’s just hard to tell how much chocolate is in there.”

Veterinarians, she says, tend to focus on worst-case scenarios when discussing the potential for toxicity.

“It’s typically going to take 6-12 hours before people see symptoms,” she says. “Dogs will often start drinking a lot of water. They may have vomiting or diarrhea. And they can be restless or agitated like they’ve had too much caffeine – which they have.”

Symptoms can progress to include hyperactivity and excessive urination. Dogs may become ataxic – “stumbling around and looking like they’re drunk,” says Dr. Palin. Tremors can result, and even seizures.

“We also see problems with their hearts beating very rapidly. It can cause high blood pressure. And in the worst case, it can cause dogs to go into a coma.”

Because of its high-fat content, chocolate also can lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammatory process of the pancreas.

Additionally, Dr. Palin says the artificial sweetener Xylitol, found in many sugar-free products like chewing gum, candy, and some baked goods, can be extremely dangerous for dogs, causing their blood pressure to plummet.

“And obviously with the holidays, it bears repeating that some table foods can also be toxic, including onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, and Macadamia nuts,” Dr. Palin adds.

These, too, can cause myriad gastrointestinal symptoms that should raise red flags with pet owners.

The key, notes Dr. Palin, is to keep a close eye on our pets, and if ingestion of anything hazardous is suspected, to seek treatment before symptoms arise.

  1. Easter Grass and Other Décor

Plastic green Easter grass remains a childhood staple for many, but cats can take a keen interest in this festive basket filler. If eaten, Easter grass and other seasonal décor can clog up our pets’ intestines and wreak havoc on their health.

“Easter grass is what we refer to as a ‘linear foreign body,’” Dr. Palin says.  “Cats tend to have more problems with this because they are just more curious about little things blowing about or moving.”

Unfortunately, what happens is that one end of the linear foreign body will get stuck in the intestines, while the other end keeps trying to move through.

“The intestines bunch up,” Dr. Palin says. “Imagine a tube that you run a string through. If you were to tie the string at one end and keep pulling, the tube is going to bunch up. That’s where we run into a severe problem that will often require surgery.”

Symptoms of cats or dogs eating linear foreign bodies like Easter grass include vomiting, straining to defecate, painful or tender abdomens, and excessive panting and restlessness.

“If the foreign body were to start to pass out of the anus, pet owners should never try to pull that out – because you don’t know what the other end is doing.”

Similar symptoms accompany ingesting other seasonal staples, like plastic eggs and candy wrappers.

“Again, any time anyone suspects their animal has ingested something dangerous, they should contact their family veterinarian.”

In the event of holiday office closings, it is important to have the phone number on hand for your local 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital.

“Another excellent source of information would be the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline,” Dr. Palin says.

While a nominal consultation charge may apply, the hotline is an exceptional resource for any questions regarding spring health hazards for pets, she adds. They can be reached at 888-426-4435.

Doylestown Veterinary Hospital pairs modern medicine with old-fashioned care to help your pets remain healthy and happy. We believe every pet is unique, so our approach to healthcare is never one-size-fits-all. Our skilled and caring doctors and technicians will get to know you and your pets to provide comprehensive and individualized care. Contact us today to learn more and Happy Easter!