Easter Baskets and Pets: Watch Out for These 4 Hidden Hazards

Chocolate bunnies might be traditional holiday treats, but the contents of your child’s Easter basket can pose a serious danger to your dog or cat.

Easter Baskets and Pets
When it comes to Easter baskets and pets, please be careful. Photo: Spiritze

Who knew a rabbit could kill?

If the Easter Bunny leaves a basket of chocolate treats where a dog can find it, things could end badly. Indeed, Easter baskets and pets should be kept well apart, or you risk to trip to doggy ER … or worse.

Keep all your furfriends happy and healthy this Easter by keeping the following 4 hazards out of paw’s reach.

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Easter Baskets and Pets: 4 Hidden Hazards

Easter Baskets and Pets
Chocolate is toxic to both dogs and cats, so keep Easter baskets and pets separated at all times. Photo: ivabalk

1. Chocolate

Who can think of Easter without thinking of chocolate? It’s impossible.

From giant eggs to miniature melt-in-the-mouth eggs, or even chocolate rabbits or chicks, Easter and chocolate go together like TV and The Simpsons.

For children, this makes Easter a magical time. But pet parents beware! If those carefully concealed chocolates are sniffed out by your scent-hound, then disaster lurks in those bushes.

The problem is chocolate is toxic to pets — and, yes, this includes both dogs and cats. However, cats tend to be more picky about what they eat and therefore not such a danger to themselves.

Why is chocolate toxic to pets?

The biggest danger chocolate poses to people is to our waistlines. So why is it so different for pets?

The clue is in the name: Chocolate comes from Theobroma cacao beans. These contain a substance called theobromine, which is a stimulant from the same family as caffeine.

Some dogs have a genetic fault that makes then unusually sensitive to these stimulants. This means a little goes a long way, and even a small amount can be potentially toxic.

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It’s not possible to tell by a dog’s appearance if they are sensitive or not — so it’s safest to assume all are and not take the risk. In addition, small dogs are at a greater risk of poisoning anyway because just a few grams of chocolate constitute a high dose relative to their small size.

What are the signs of chocolate toxicity?

A pet who has eaten chocolate can display a range of symptoms. Some of these, such as sickness and diarrhea, are just an inconvenience. More serious are signs of severe stimulation of the nervous system, such as hyperactivity and a racing heart.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Sickness
  • Diarrhea
  • A racing heart
  • Panting
  • Overexcitement
  • Shaking
  • Muscle tremors

Unfortunately, this can lead to serious complications such as seizures, a heart attack, or coma and death. If you suspect a pet has eaten chocolate, contact your veterinarian without delay.

What should I do if my dog ate chocolate?

If you suspect a dog has eaten chocolate, stay calm. Look for clues as to whether they’ve actually eaten chocolate, such as:

  • A chocolatey smell on their breath
  • Chewed-up wrappers

Pick up any wrappers to help you figure out:

  • What type of chocolate the dog ate (milk or plain?)
  • If possible, the percentage cocoa solids that the chocolate contains
  • Approximately how much the dog has eaten

Now phone the vet with this information. The vet will give you instructions on what to next.

Do NOT make the dog vomit, unless instructed to do so by the vet. Not making the dog vomit is especially important if the dog is already showing signs of hyperactivity, since the theobromine is already in their system. Making these pets sick runs the risk of them inhaling vomitus into their lungs, which can cause serious pneumonia.

How much chocolate is dangerous to a dog?

A toxic dose starts around 20 mg of theobromine for each kilogram the dog weighs.

Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine:

  • Milk chocolate contains approx. 1–2 mg per gram of chocolate.
  • Plain chocolate contains approx. 1–8 mg per gram of chocolate.

Thus, for a 10 kg (22 pound) dog, around 100 grams of milk chocolate or 25 grams of plain chocolate could cause problems.

But as previously stated, don’t take any risks. Some dogs are especially sensitive (those with that genetic mutation), so even if the dog ate a small amount, I recommend contacting the vet for advice.

Easter cakes are dangerous to pets
Easter cakes and cookies containing dried fruit are dangerous to pets. Photo: Hans

2. Dried Fruit

The risk of scrumptious Easter treats being harmful to pets doesn’t end with chocolate. Oh no. Traditional fare such as hot cross buns, fruitcake and Easter biscuits all contain dried fruit.

If you haven’t heard by now, then thank goodness you’re reading this, because vine fruits like grapes and raisins are toxic to pets.

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This is another one of those mysteries where scientists have yet to work out why something that’s safe for people is so dangerous for dogs (and cats). But sometimes we just have to take things as fact.

What we do know is that some animals seem sensitive to something contained in vine fruits, while others are not. This is why some pets apparently snack on sultanas, raisins and grapes with no ill effects, while others go into terminal kidney failure having eaten just a few.

  • Fatalities are recorded from dogs eating just 11.5 grams of raisins per kilogram of body weight. For example, just 115 grams could be fatal for a 10 kg dog.
  • However, the toxicity is not necessarily dose related, with some dogs being sensitive to just a few raisins sufficient to cause kidney damage.

What are the signs of vine fruit toxicity?

The signs below are typical, but it’s important to know that just because a dog doesn’t get a stomach upset doesn’t mean they won’t develop renal failure. If your pet has eaten vine fruits, always seek urgent veterinary attention.

  • Vomiting and diarrhea, often within 6 hours of eating the fruit
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Kidney damage detectable on blood tests within 1–3 days

If the pet has eaten these fruits recently, the vet may induce vomiting (where appropriate). The vet may also suggest putting the dog on an intravenous drip for 2–3 days, to flush the kidneys and try to protect them.

Easter baskets and pets
Cats who brush against the pollen in a lily and then groom in a few of the grains can suffer potentially deadly kidney damage. Photo: MustangJoe

3. Easter Lilies

In the language of flowers, lilies have a special significance at Easter.

It’s said that their life cycle retells the story of the Resurrection, with new life arising from the husk of the old. In addition, the blooms are linked to hope, life and spirituality — making them highly appropriate to the Easter season.

But there’s a drawback … and it’s a big one.

Lilies are highly toxic to cats. Brushing against the pollen and then grooming in a few grains can lead to irreversible kidney damage. And although the pollen is the biggest risk, if a cat chews on the leaves, stems or leaves, this is also dangerous.

No one is quite sure of the mechanism by which lilies do harm to felines, but this doesn’t alter the fact that they are deadly and shouldn’t mix.

So, don’t put lilies in your Easter basket if you have a cat. And if you are gifted a stunning floral bouquet that includes lilies, please discretely remove these flowers and safely bin them. If this isn’t possible, the trim out the pollen-bearing parts and display the bouquet on a high, high shelf that your cat can’t reach.

Easter baskets and pets
Plastic straw in Easter baskets is not a food and is dangerous for pets, who can swallow it. Photo: gabbysol

4. Synthetic Straw or Grass

An Easter basket lined with vibrant green grass or sunny yellow straw makes for an attractive display.

But synthetic materials such as shredded plastic or even treated sawdust can be harmful to pets.

Synthetic decorative products are not a food and not meant to be eaten. Unfortunately, most dogs haven’t read the packaging and prefer the “If it fits in my mouth, I can eat it” approach.

Though it’s unlikely the dyes and chemicals would do serious harm, they could cause stomach irritation and digestive upset.

Then there’s the physical aspect of eating material that’s not digestible. Swallow lots of cellophane straw and this becomes the doggy equivalent of a blocked sink. The material clogs together to form an obstruction in the gut. These blockages have the potential to be serious and require surgery to remove them.

In the news segment below (starting at about the 2-minute mark), Dr. Susan Wylegala, DVM, shares more about the dangers of Easter baskets and pets:

Final Thoughts on Easter Baskets and Pets

Celebrate safely and with your friends and family, rather than sitting in the waiting area at the emergency vet clinic.

This doesn’t mean spoiling the fun, but rather sparing a thought for home hazards, such as Easter baskets and pets.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Keep all Easter goodies up high and away from prying paws.
  • Make sure all guests know not to give into those puppy dog eyes and feed from the table. Those fruitcake crumbs could prove to be a fatal mistake.
  • Keep chocolate out of reach and explain to children that they should never leave chocolate where pets can get to it.
  • Hold Easter hunts only in areas to which pets have no access.
  • Use natural packing in Easter baskets.
  • Don’t allow lilies in the house or garden — but if lilies are absolutely unavoidable, put them up high and well out of reach.

So here’s to a happy and healthy Easter that is memorable for all family members for the right reasons!

References


vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. This article was originally published in 2011 and is regularly updated. It was last reviewed for accuracy and updated April 7, 2020.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.
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