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Easter baskets, treats can be hazardous to pets

Original Publication Date: March 30, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Easter baskets filled with colored eggs and candy delight children.

However, yummy chocolate rabbits and other candies contain chemicals that can be toxic to your pet.

Chocolate, coffee, and tea contain substances known as xanthines. They are no problem for humans, but they cause nervous system and urinary system damage and heart muscle stimulation in pets.

Bottom line - they are toxic to dogs and cats. The big threat to pets are the xanthines, theobromine and caffeine, that are found in chocolate. Pets, especially dogs, are lured by the aroma of theobromine and savor its taste.

Darker chocolates have higher concentrations of the toxins, but they are present even in white chocolate.

Early signs that a pet has found and treated themselves to a chocolate feast, are vomiting, diarrhea and trembling.

A visit to the vet is in order because left untreated, chocolate toxicity can lead to seizures and even death.

Pets are also enticed by jelly beans, marshmallow chicks, candied eggs, sugar free gum and many other Easter basket goodies that can cause gastrointestinal upsets. The most dangerous candies contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener.

The blood sugar levels of humans and dogs are controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. In humans, xylitol has no effect on insulin levels. However, in dogs, cats and other non-primates, the ingestion of xylitol stimulates a rapid release of insulin and blood sugar levels can drop dramatically in a matter of minutes.

Untreated, the condition can cause life-threatening liver failure. It is estimated xylitol is 100 times as toxic as chocolate to dogs.

Edible goodies are not the only hazards to pet health. Even the tidiest pets do not generally unwrap candy before they gobble. If eaten, foil and cellophane wrappers can cause choking or intestinal blockage.

Watch for vomiting, decreased appetite, not defecating or lethargy if you suspect your pet has eaten wrappers.

Diagnosis may require x-rays and veterinary treatment.

We would not eat the colorful grass in an Easter basket, but your dog or cat may munch it. Unfortunately, the plastic component of the grass is not digestible and can become entangled in your pet's digestive tract. Eating any string-like object including Easter grass, thin rope, yarn, ribbon, rubber bands or socks can cause a condition known as linear foreign body obstruction. The eaten object becomes tangled and lodged in the intestines.

Poor appetite, vomiting and listlessness are signs that your pet should see the veterinarian. Surgery may be required to remove the blockage.

Colorful Easter baskets are wonderful for the children in your life, but the treats most desired by kids can be dangerous to our pets. Remember to keep Easter baskets out-of-reach of your pets. Remind your children not to share chocolate, sugar free candy, and Easter grass, because they are dangerous for their pets.

Sue Furman, Ph.D. has authored two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage and acupressure. Visit her website