Easter weekend dangerous for dogs, cats

Veterinarian warns several traditions pose a threat

CANTON, Mich. – A tisket, a tasket, keep your pet away from that basket.

Easter is a special holiday for many families, but it's also potentially one of the most dangerous weekends of the year for our pets.

"Probably the No. 1 Easter-related issue that we see is chocolate," said Dr. Michael Petty, a veterinarian at Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital in Canton, Mich.

Petty says it's primarily a problem for dogs, and the risk for them is two-fold.

"A dog isn't going to open up the chocolate Easter bunny and eat the chocolate, they're going to eat the wrapper as well," explained Petty.

That can lead to an obstruction and poisoning. The darker the chocolate, and the more a dog eats, the more dangerous it is.

"(In dogs, chocolate causes) heart issues, anxiety issues, actually cause seizures and can be life-threatening," Petty said.

Sugar-free gum or sweets are also a danger because they may contain a sweetener called xylitol.

"Xylitol is very dangerous for dogs. It can plummet their blood sugar level, (causing dogs to) actually go into a coma and can have some other long-term effects on their liver as well that could be fatal," Petty said.

Even plastic eggs can pose a threat. Several dogs have suffered intestinal problems and required surgery after swallowing one.

Plastic grass poses a big risk for cats. Petty says cat owners should use the paper variety instead, or better yet, skip it altogether.

Be sure not to leave Easter baskets sitting unattended.

"Load them up the morning of Easter and then immediately unload them afterwards and keep them up high and safe, and explain to your kids the dangers and get rid of the grass," advised Petty.

The risks aren't limited to Easter baskets. One of the most overlooked hazards for cats and dogs is the Easter ham.

"People want to treat their dogs and they cut off a piece of it. What do they usually cut off? The fatty part that they don't want to eat," Petty said. "That can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, but more seriously, pancreatitis can be a very, very deadly issue, and it can be very hard to recover from."

Finally, if you have a cat, avoid Easter lilies.

"Probably the No.1 that a lot of people don't understand is Easter lilies. Incredibly toxic, it can be deadly in a very small amount," Petty said. "The leaves are poisonous, the stem is poisonous, the flower is poisonous, even the pollen is poisonous on Easter lilies, and it can put a cat into kidney failure to the point of death. If you have a cat, don't buy an Easter lily. If you get one as a gift, say, 'Thank you,' and give it to a neighbor or friend. Just don't even have it in the house with a cat, because they are usually very attracted to plants."

If your pet does get into any of these items, you need to call an emergency vet line or pet poison control right away for advice.

Prevention is key, because in addition to being life-threatening, these problems can lead to very expensive vet bills.

"Plus, you're putting your animal through a fair amount of pain as it's going through this surgery. It's all very preventable," Petty said.