Easter treats pose a threat to pets

Easter is an exciting time for many people - the end of Lent and the promise of delicious treats to mark the occasion.

Alana Taylor, vet nurse at Vets Now emergency clinic in Lincoln

But did you know that many treats associated with Easter - not just chocolate but other foods and even flowers - can be deadly to your pets?

April, which is National Pet Month, represents one of the busiest months of the year for pet emergency service Vets Now, who will deal with tens of thousands of pet emergencies at its clinics and hospitals throughout the UK.

Vets Now is expecting around a 50 percent surge in calls at its emergency clinic in Lincolnshire during the Easter period as worried pet owners battle with concerns over chocolate poisoning.

According to research analysts, shoppers spent an estimated £35.5m last year on Easter eggs (Kantar, 2020) — with almost three-quarters of the population buying at least one.

As Alana Taylor, vet nurse at Vets Now emergency clinic in Lincoln explained: “Chocolate contains a poisonous chemical called theobromine which is highly toxic to both dogs and cats.

“The level of toxicity depends on the amount and type of chocolate swallowed, with dark chocolate and cocoa powder being the most dangerous. Small dogs and puppies are most at risk from theobromine poisoning due to their size and weight.”

The effects of chocolate poisoning in dogs usually appear within the first 12 hours and can last up to three days.

First signs of poisoning can include excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness. These symptoms can then develop into hyperactivity, tremors, abnormal heart rate, hyperthermia and rapid breathing.

In severe cases, dogs can experience fits and heartbeat irregularities and some cases can result in coma or death.

Alana continued: “Owners who suspect their pet has eaten a dangerous amount of chocolate should not wait for signs or symptoms to appear before they contact a vet. Instead, they should telephone their vet immediately or, out of hours, their nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic.”

Vets Now has created a chocolate toxicity calculator to help worried dog owners find out if their dog has potentially eaten a deadly amount of chocolate.

Alana has drawn up a list of the other most common Easter hazards to be aware of:

- Hot cross buns = Hot cross buns contain dried fruits like raisins, currants and sultanas which can cause kidney failure in dogs. It’s not clear what causes these toxic effects and some dogs are affected more than others. Experts agree that there is no “safe” dose of grapes and raisins so it’s best to avoid them altogether.

- Nutmeg = Another common ingredient in hot cross buns, contains a toxin called myristicin which can cause mild stomach upset if eaten in small doses, and severe symptoms such as increased heart rate, disorientation, abdominal pain, hallucinations and even seizures if eaten in large amounts.

- Spring flowers and plants = Spring flowers and plants can be found in many homes and gardens around Easter. Unfortunately, several are poisonous to dogs, with the bulbs posing the biggest risk. Daffodil, lily and spring crocus bulbs are all highly toxic. Symptoms of plant or bulb poisoning can include vomiting, upset stomach and heart and kidney problems.

- Xylitol = If you’re baking a cake for Easter beware of xylitol. It’s an artificial sweetener used in home baking and found in many products including some sugar-free gums and diet foods. It can also be found in some Easter eggs. Dogs are extremely sensitive to xylitol and even small amounts can cause toxicity. Early symptoms of xylitol poisoning include lethargy, vomiting and loss of coordination. Seizures and even death may occur.

- Packaging and plastic toys = It’s not uncommon for dogs to swallow things they shouldn’t, and plastic toys like those found in some Easter eggs and silver foil used to wrap eggs can pose a risk if ingested. Some objects may get lodged in the intestine or, worse still, the oesophagus.

- Fatty foods = Ham and lamb may be staples of a traditional Easter lunch, however, these fatty foods can cause vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, weakness, lethargy, and fever in dogs if eaten in large enough quantities. It can also lead to life-threatening pancreatitis in more severe cases.

- Onions, leeks and chives = These common ingredients in Easter feasts can cause stomach and gut irritation and potentially lead to red blood cell damage and anaemia. Onions are particularly toxic and signs of poisoning often only occur a few days after your dog has eaten the vegetable.

- Alcohol = Alcohol is significantly more toxic to dogs than to humans. When consumed, even small quantities of alcoholic beverages and food products may cause vomiting, diarrhoea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, blood changes, coma and even death. So, remember to keep alcohol well out of your dog’s reach at all times.

If you’re worried your dog is sick or injured as a result of any of these, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Try to get as much information as possible, including the trade name of any toxic substance consumed, active ingredients, the amount your dog has ingested and when it was ingested. If you have the original packaging show it to your vet.