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Easter Hazards

Easter toxins and hazardsEaster Toxins and Hazards
Do not let a pet emergency become the focus of your holiday celebration. Following some of the tips below will make the day safe for all.
Easter Lily (and related Lily plants)

The Easter Lily is a common finding this time of year. “Unbeknownst to many pet owners, Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “All parts of the Easter lily plant are poisonous – the petals, the leaves, the stem and even the pollen. Cats that ingest as few as one or two leaves, or even a small amount of pollen while grooming their fur, can suffer severe kidney failure.”

In most situations, symptoms of poisoning will develop within six to 12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Symptoms worsen as kidney failure develops. Some cats will experience disorientation, staggering and seizures.

Another spring flower often used in cut flower arrangements, daffodils, are also toxic to cats.

Easter Baskets

- Easter grass (just like tinsel from Christmas)

Cats and dogs love anything that moves. Easter grass moves easily in the breeze, makes interesting sounds, and, for some cats and dogs, it is simply irresistible and must be eaten.

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. It can result in a linear foreign body and cause severe damage to the intestinal tract, often requiring expensive abdominal surgery.

Trying to pull out visible grass or string is not recommended, as this can cause more damage if the piece is long and trapped far inside the body. Call your veterinarian if you suspect that your cat has sampled the Easter grass.

You may be surprised to learn that plastic Easter grass is also a danger to birds which are nesting at this time of year. Birds are drawn to the colorful strands and weave them into their nest. The sturdy plastic strands may wrap around and entrap a bird’s foot, or wrap around a chick’s neck. If you have an outdoor Easter egg hunt, be sure to pick up all errant strands of plastic grass.

As a safer alternative to plastic Easter grass, look for colorful shredded paper grass or use Easter-themed tissue paper.

- Chocolate

This is typically more of a dog hazard, as many dogs have a sweet tooth, a great nose, and the determination to find chocolate -- hidden or not, but cats may consume chocolate too.

The toxic components in chocolate are theobromine and caffeine, and the level of toxicity is based on the type and quantity of chocolate consumed.

Different types of chocolate have different amounts of theobromine and caffeine; dark chocolate contains the highest concentrations and white "chocolate" contains the least. Early clinical signs are vomiting, diarrhea and trembling.

Ingested foil wrapping can cause intestinal blockages as well as lacerate the lining of the intestines.

- Xylitol

It is important to note that xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in many candies, chewing gums and baked goods, is potentially very toxic to dogs and ferrets.

- Raisins

Some people put little boxes of raisins in their Easter baskets. If you have dogs in the house, this could prove to be a very unhealthy decision. Raisins, grapes, and currants, can cause acute kidney failure in some dogs. We in the veterinary profession still do not know what it is in these fruits that is responsible for this toxicity, nor do we know why some dogs are susceptible, while others are not. What we do know though, is that kidney failure is debilitating, expensive to treat, and often fatal. Keep raisins, as well as grapes and currants, well away from your dogs.

- Easter Toys

Stuffed bunnies, chickens, and other plastic toys can be chewed and swallowed your pet. Your dog might swallow plastic, stuffing, or other parts that can cause intestinal blockages or an upset stomach. Keep the baskets out of reach of your pet.

- Plastic Easter eggs

Plastic eggs are usually filled with candy and coins. Ingesting the plastic can cause intestinal blockages, lacerations of the intestinal lining, mouth and trachea. Pennies made since 1982, zinc oxide skin preparations such as Desitin, and galvanized metal such as nails and staples. In cases of short-term exposure or when smaller amounts are ingested, signs include

  • Weakness

  • Pale gums (anemia)

  • Vomiting

  • Increased breathing

  • Increased heart rate

  • Discolored urine

  • Jaundiced gums

  • Lack of appetite

  • Collapse

  • Death

Zinc poisoning can occur in dogs, cats, and birds secondary to ingesting metal pieces (e.g., nuts, bolts, hardware and other galvanized metals), certain topical ointments (e.g., diaper rash creams), or coins. While some coins can be safely ingested and passed out in the stool a few days later, some types of coins contain large amounts of zinc, resulting in zinc poisoning. When the zinc-containing coin enters the acid environment of the stomach, the zinc breaks down, causing stomach upset and zinc absorption into the blood stream. Zinc poisoning can lead to destruction of red blood cells, liver damage, kidney failure and heart failure. Clinical signs of zinc poisoning include weakness, pale gums (anemia), vomiting, increased breathing, increased heart rate, discolored urine, jaundiced gums, lack of appetite, and collapse. Removal of the coin is important, or severe damage to the red blood cells can occur, resulting in a severe anemia. Without therapy, ingestion of a zinc penny can be fatal.

- Eggs

Kids find most of the colorful Easter eggs you hide, but what about those eggs that no one finds, and later your cat or dog does? Boiled eggs go bad in two hours or less outside. Eating them can make your pet sick, and the shiny plastic eggs may give them intestinal problems or require surgery if swallowed.

Pork roast

The main problem with the typical pork roast is the amount of fat it contains, as many pets will develop digestive upset from eating excessively fatty foods. Some pets, including miniature schnauzers and certain other breeds, obese pets, and those with chronic pancreatitis, are at an even higher risk of such digestive upset. Fat isn’t the only problem with pork roast, though. Few pets are willing and able to resist the chance to play with (and eat) the twine that often holds these cuts of meat together. When eaten, this twine can obstruct your pet’s digestive tract, so be sure to dispose of this string safely. NO BONES! Besides the bacteria they carry, bones can easily splinter causing trachea and intestinal lacerations and blockages.


The dangers of ham are much the same as those mentioned above for the pork roast, with one more thrown in for good measure… the salt. Most hams have a high enough salt content to lead to neurologic problems for pets that eat a large enough quantity. Of course, the amount that will define a “large enough” quantity will vary for each pet based on a number of factors. So it’s just best to play it safe and avoid sharing the Easter ham with your pets, and be sure to ask your guests to do the same.

Bread and rolls (uncooked dough)

When pets (typically dogs) eat uncooked dough containing live yeast, they can suffer a variety of debilitating and possibly fatal problems. After they ingest the live yeast, the dough travels to the stomach where it is warm and moist (the best environment for dough to rise). Three things can happen now. The dough can continue to expand and can result in an obstruction of the stomach, which may require surgery. Another other issue is yeast will convert the sugars in the dough to carbon dioxide and alcohol. The alcohol will start to absorb and can cause alcohol poisoning. The carbon dioxide continues to expand the stomach to the point of discomfort. The carbon dioxide has no way to escape and the patient can go into shock because all essential blood flow has stopped. So please store any bread dough or raw yeast product the microwave or high on a shelf.

Overall, keeping your pets out of the kitchen when preparing the Easter feast and well away from the table once the food comes out will help the whole family have a comfortable, enjoyable meal.