Pet Toxicities

With Spring comes the Easter holiday season! Easter is a time for families to come together to enjoy each other’s company and take part in a variety of holiday traditions. Sometimes, pets can get themselves into trouble during this holiday. Here are a few common intoxications of our pets on Easter and all Spring long – and how to recognize them.


Cats in particular are at risk for health hazards from lily plants. Not all cats will be affected to the same degree, but if they are the consequences can be fatal. When cats chew on lily flowers or leaves, or ingest the pollen, they can go into acute kidney failure. Common signs and symptoms of acute kidney failure are lethargy, excessive drinking, excessive urinating, complete absence of urinating, vomiting, and collapse. If your cat is exposed to lilies, the cat should be immediately brought to the animal hospital for baseline bloodwork to monitor kidney values and have IV fluid therapy initiated. With prompt treatment, many cats will able to continue to live normal lives. In severe cases, dialysis will be needed.


You’ve heard it before, chocolate is toxic to pets. Dogs are the typical culprit of this toxicosis but most animals who eat enough will feel the effects. Chocolate is toxic to animals because of chemicals called methylxanthines, which include caffeine and theobromine. They are not able to metabolize them as well as people. Mild chocolate toxicity signs are vomiting and diarrhea. More moderate signs are elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and muscle tremors. The most severe chocolate toxicity patients will be at risk for heart arrhythmias and seizures. As a general rule, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pet. If exposed chocolate, first call either the ASPCA Poison Control or your veterinarian to determine if your pet needs treatment. Many pets will not need treatment – it depends on how much they weigh, how much they ate, and what type of chocolate they ate.

Fatty foods

High fat foods, while delicious, are often way too rich for dogs to tolerate. Many dogs will develop gastroenteritis and/or pancreatitis if given fatty foods. Signs are vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, increased thirst, lethargy, and abdominal pain. As a rule of thumb, dogs should never be given meat unless it has been cooked by boiling and subsequently strained. The boiling process separates out the fat from the muscle in the meat. Prior to boiling, it is also important to trim excess fat and remove any skins. While some dogs will be able to tolerate fatty foods, many can develop severe pancreatitis from something as simple as eating a piece of fried chicken or a hot dog. Keep the Easter ham away from your pup!

Easter grass

For some reason, many cats in in particular have an affinity for eating long, stringy objects such as thread, yarn, floss, and Easter grass. All of these pose a risk for intestinal obstruction when ingested by cats and in large enough volumes, dogs too. When pets eat Easter grass or any other types of what veterinarians refer to as “linear foreign bodies”, they will typically have repeated bouts of vomiting. Dogs can also get linear foreign body obstructions from bigger objects such as pieces of carpet or clothing. If your pet ate a linear foreign body, they should have abdominal imaging (x-rays and/or ultrasound) to determine where the object is and how best to proceed removing it i.e. medical management or surgical intervention. On a side note, never pull hard on a linear object if it manages to make its way out of your pet’s rectum! A gentle tug is OK but if it does not release, don’t pull harder! You might tear the intestines and cause sepsis (blood poisoning).

Plastic Easter Eggs and their contents

Similar to Easter grass, hard plastic can also cause a foreign body obstruction in dogs when eaten. The contents of the eggs can also be problematic, for example if they contain chocolate or coins. Certain types of coins can cause heavy metal toxicosis, which results in anemia, vomiting, and lethargy, among other signs and symptoms.

Artificial Sweetener (Xylitol)

If candies ingested contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol, dogs and cats can have lethal reactions. While safe for human ingestion, xylitol causes dose-dependent severe decreases in blood sugar and/or acute liver failure in dogs and cats. Signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, seizures, lethargy, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, gums). Immediate treatment after exposure is key to avoiding fatal consequences.

Non-Stick Cookware

Pet birds are sensitive to non-stick cookware such as Teflon. Bird owners should never use these types of cookware because when heated, the fumes can cause serious respiratory distress in birds. If your pet bird is having difficulty breathing, is weak, uncoordinated, or having seizures, then they could be suffered from exposure to aerosolized toxins such as Teflon. Bring them to the veterinarian immediately to have supplemental oxygen provided.

Author: Dr. Jeffrey Haymaker