How to keep your pets safe during the Easter holidays

April 1st, 2021

Easter is a busy time for veterinary clinics. While kids are searching for baskets of treats and eggs hidden by the Easter bunny, some pets get into mischief and eat things they shouldn’t.    

Common Easter foods like chocolate and hot cross buns can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening to animals.   

“We have seen them all – the box of Scorched Almonds, a packet of Easter eggs and even a whole entire chocolate cake (yes – it was a Labrador)” says Dr Fiona Walkinton (BVSc, distinction) of Waikato After Hours Veterinary Hospital.    

If you’re lucky, chocolate treats may be delivered by the Easter bunny this week. While that’s great news for you and me, it can result in an emergency trip to the veterinary clinic if you don’t keep those treats well away from your furry family.  

 

Why can’t my dog or cat eat chocolate?  

Chocolate is poisonous to pets as it contains caffeine which increases heart rate, and theobromine, a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant which, dogs and cats struggle to metabolise. The longer it takes to work through their system, the more toxins build up.   

Naturally found in cacao beans, the amount of theobromine depends on the type of chocolate, with darker, purer chocolate varieties carrying the highest levels.  

“The cacao beans are ground to produce chocolate liquor which is then made into chocolate. More chocolate liquor in a product means more theobromine, resulting in higher toxicity,” says Dr Cath Watson, president of NZVA’s Companion Animal Society. “Baking chocolate, therefore is the worst, followed by semisweet and dark chocolate, then milk chocolate. Chocolate flavoured cakes or cookies and white chocolate have the lowest toxicity.”  

This doesn’t mean white chocolate is fine, it still contains theobromine, and pets should never eat it.  

Luckily, cats don’t usually seem as keen on chocolate as dogs do, they’re more likely to be interested in playing with the wrapper than the chocolate itself.  

 

How much chocolate is too much for a dog?  

You should never feed your dog ANY chocolate. However, accidents do happen.  

While there is no right or wrong answer to this, usually, the amount of chocolate a dog can tolerate will depend on:  

  • how much they’ve eaten  
  • how old they are  
  • how large they are  
  • how pure the chocolate was  

Urgent treatment may be needed if your dog has eaten chocolate, please contact your vet as soon as possible for advice

While online chocolate toxicity calculators are helpful, urgent treatment may be needed if your dog has eaten chocolate. Please contact your vet as soon as possible for advice 

  

What are the signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs?  

Symptoms of dog chocolate poisoning include:  

  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea  
  • restlessness  
  • increased thirst or urination 
  • high temperature and blood pressure  
  • lethargy  
  • tremors 
  • elevated or abnormal heart rate 
  • seizures 
  • collapse and death 

 

What should I do if my dog’s eaten chocolate?   

Chocolate consumption in dogs can produce anything from mild flatulence to vomiting, diarrhoea, and increased heart rate. If your dog has eaten chocolate – or you notice any symptoms – the first thing you should do is call your vet. It can take up to 12 hours for any symptoms to show.   

You must remain calm even if you’re very worried, as your dog will pick up on your anxiety which will increase their heart rate further. Talk to them in your normal voice to help convince them everything’s fine.   

Your vet will tell you if you need to bring your dog in or whether you just need to keep a close eye on them. You should never try to induce vomiting in your dog yourself.  

  

How do I stop my dog eating chocolate?  

Make sure you remember where chocolate is hidden when setting up an Easter egg hunt, as a dog’s keen sense of smell means they can track down hidden chocolate stashes!  

Always keep chocolate out of their reach. Teach your children to never let your dog have any of their chocolate or lick their fingers when they’re eating it.  

The ‘leave it’ command can be your best friend in these situations. Most dogs have an instinctual desire to please their owners, you’re their alpha and following a command gives them a sense of purpose within the pack. Once they’ve mastered the ‘leave it’ command, it should stop them if they’ve picked up something they shouldn’t – or at least make them pause long enough to give you a chance to get to them.  

  

Can my cat or dog eat hot cross buns?   

No! It’s not just chocolate – hot cross buns can also make your dog or cat sick. Grapes are extremely toxic to cats and dogs and although scientists aren’t entirely sure why they do agree that dried grapes are even more toxic to our pets. This means currents, sultanas and raisins could result in kidney failure in your pet.   

Amanda Boag, Vets Now’s clinical director, said: “All grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas can be poisonous to dogs, and potentially poisonous to cats, and the dried versions of the fruits are more frequently associated with severe symptoms.  

Unlike chocolate, it’s not a case of size or quantity eaten. There have been cases of a single grape killing an 80kg Great Dane and a 2kg Yorkshire Terrier surviving, as there’s no definitive answer to why they’re so bad for dogs, you should never let your pet have any.   

If you’re making your hot cross buns from scratch, make sure your dogs are never left near your proving dough. The yeast causing your dough to rise can cause your dog a lot of discomfort if they eat it. The gases can cause their stomach to bloat and even twist in extreme circumstances which often results in emergency surgery.  

  

What Easter foods can my pet eat?   

If you’re planning on cooking an Easter roast, there’s plenty of food you can treat your dog with. A tasty piece of raw carrot would give them something to sink their teeth into and many green vegetables are perfectly healthy for your pet too. Just remember, too many cruciferous vegetables can have the same unfortunate gastral side effects in dogs, as well as humans!  

Why not give your cat their very own special Easter feast, like a can of high-quality cat food in the same flavour meal you’re having! You can even serve it on a fancy dish if you want. 

  

 Safe Easter treats for cats and dogs.  

Easter for pets should be fun, which is why you should include your furry friends in your traditions. If you regularly make Easter baskets for your children, surprise your dog or cat with one, too. You could include healthy treats and a new toy, instead of a basket, put the gifts in a new dog or cat bed they can relax in later.  

Easter time can be fun for both your family and your pets, if you keep them away from anything that could harm them and include them in your annual traditions.  

  

What plants are poisonous to cats and dogs?   

Karaka berries 

  • Karaka Berries can be very toxic to dogs. 
  • Karaka trees are native to New Zealand and are abundant in public places throughout the country including parks and reserves, private properties, and street plantings. The trees pose the greatest threat to dogs between summer and autumn, as the berries ripen and fall to the ground. 

Dr Natalie Rogerson, from Sommerville Veterinary Centre in Howick stressed the importance of pet owners being vigilant and acting quickly. “If an owner sees their pet chewing or eating a karaka berry, it is vital they take their dog straight to the vet. 

  

Lilies   

  • Lilies are toxic to cats, and just brushing up against the flower can do damage. You might think your cat has enough common sense to not eat something poisonous, but have you ever noticed how easily the pollen falls from lilies? The huge leaves on this flower mean that just walking too close to a vase could be enough to leave your cat seriously ill. Given how meticulous most cats are about their grooming, the pollen can easily be ingested which can lead to kidney failure.   
  • Many species of lily can also be toxic to dogs.   
  • Irises and chrysanthemums are also very popular in flower arrangements this time of year, these can be poisonous to cats too so you should avoid having them in your home.   

  

Daffodils   

  • Daffodils may be an iconic springtime staple, but the flower, leaves and bulb can be very toxic to cats and dogs. Luckily the most poisonous part of the daffodil is the bulb, and it tastes very bitter so not many pets will be looking to eat them. But if you’ve got a very playful pup and your bulbs aren’t buried very deeply, make sure they’re not dug up to double as a toy to chase across the garden.   

  

Fruit and vegetable plants   

  • Some outdoor plants have leaves which can be an irritant, tomatoes plants, strawberries, marrow etc can produce hay-fever like symptoms in cats like sneezing, drooling or sore eyes.   

  

Prevention is always better than cure. Some basic training and safety can do 99% of the work when it comes to keeping your pet safe.   

Ensure before the long weekend you have made yourself familiar with your vet clinic’s emergency care provisions. 

If you’re ever worried your cat or dog has ingested anything poisonous or toxic you should always phone your vet. If you can, make a note of what they’ve eaten, when and how much and try to remain as calm as possible around your pet.   

Remember, a treat isn’t the only way you can show love to your four-legged friends. Enjoy the long autumn nights and treat your dog by walking that Easter indulgence off!! 

 

 

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