Vet warns of Easter dangers

Vet warns of Easter dangers

Dr. Anna Foreman, Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet, has issued a warning to pet owners against using their pet’s “safe spaces” (e.g. hidey holes, dog beds, food bowls) as hiding places during Easter egg hunts as a pet may become “upset” and “aggressive”. 

It comes as research carried out by Everypaw shows that online searches for ‘Easter egg hunts for dogs’ have risen by 750% over the last three months, while ‘dog-friendly Easter eggs’ has increased by 180% compared to the same time last year.

In light of this, Dr Anna has explained the dangers of hosting Easter egg hunts around pets, such as choking, chocolate poisoning, resource conflict and injury to children. She has also given her top tips for creating a pet-friendly Easter that everyone can enjoy safely and revealed the best ingredients for making dog-friendly Easter eggs.

What are the potential dangers involved with hosting Easter egg hunts around pets?

  • Chocolate - Chocolate can cause toxicity in any dog. Theobromine (a component of chocolate) is poisonous in certain quantities, with the amount of this toxin increasing in concentration depending on the ‘darkness’ of the chocolate.
    Smaller dogs can tolerate a much lower quantity of theobromine before toxic effects occur than larger dogs due to their relatively lower weight. Theobromine causes gastrointestinal (stomach and small intestines) and neurological (brain and nerves) toxicity and can be life threatening.
    If a dog eats chocolate (or a chocolate-based product), always contact your vets to check if the quantity consumed is toxic – keep the wrapper or packaging and take a note of the amount eaten.
  • Foreign body ingestion – Some dogs are prone to eating non-food items which can cause a blockage in the gastrointestinal system. During an easter egg hunt, dogs could consume wrappers or toy eggs, particularly if very excited by the fun.
  • Resource conflict – If a dog is involved in an easter egg hunt, depending on the dog’s nature, resource conflict could occur. For example, if two dogs, or a dog and a child find a ‘resource’ at the same time, there is the potential for a fight to occur. This can cause serious injury to both the dog/s and humans.
  • Choking – If dogs are rushing around trying to sniff out items, they may not chew before swallowing. This can lead to choking. Choking is more common in short nosed breeds, for example, brachycephalic dogs like French bulldogs.
  • Injury to children – If dogs are running around during an easter egg hunt, children could trip over or be barged down by them.
  • Distress/anxiety – Some anxious dogs may become distressed seeing people running around the house or garden. They could hide away, bark or even escalate to attacking if feeling threatened.

What are your tips for hosting a safe Easter egg hunt around pets?

  • Separation - Keep pets in a separate area while performing the hunt. This will prevent them from any of the above dangers. Keep them occupied with a dog safe toy or chew, ideally with somebody monitoring them. They could also be taken on a walk while the hunt is going on as a distraction.
  • Enclosed space - Make sure rabbits and other small furries are in a safe enclosed space, ideally with somewhere to hide, as they may become spooked with people running around.
    Cats and nervous dogs are equally prone to becoming spooked – make sure they are kept in a safe space, particularly if the door to the outside is open as they may escape.
  • Avoid hiding eggs in safe spaces - Care should be taken to avoid hiding eggs during an easter egg hunt in/around an animal’s safe spaces or resources.
    Some animals are anxious and may become upset by their areas being interfered with. Some dogs may become put off their safe spaces and seek out a new, less appropriate one. Some dogs are possessive of their resources and may become aggressive towards those interfering with them, which is a massive danger especially to children.
    Even if an animal cannot physically see their resources being interfered with, they will likely smell and see something is different once they go back to them – they are very sensitive.

What's your opinion on dog Easter egg hunts (where you hide treats/something specifically for dogs)? 

There is a place for doggy easter egg hunts, especially if performed safely. Dogs love being stimulated by sniffing things out – scent work is a great way of occupying a dog’s mind: 

  • Make sure to use dog friendly treats, no chocolate or small items that could be ingested or choked on. 
  • Let each dog do the hunt independently to avoid conflict. 
  • Perform the hunt in a safe enclosed space, such as a room or fenced in garden to prevent escape.
  • To avoid confusion, if both doggy and human easter egg hunts are performed, it is important to keep the dog/s occupied or out of the house when the human Easter egg hunt is being performed. Dangers are much more likely if a dog becomes involved in a human easter egg hunt thinking it is for them!!

What are your tips for keeping pets safe over Easter?

  • Keep chocolate, hot cross buns etc. out of the reach of animals. Be extra careful with dogs who are tall enough to reach on top of tables, or cats prone to jumping onto countertops!
  • Care when sharing an easter meal with animals, as they can be very rich and fatty. Gastrointestinal upsets are common, and some animals are prone to pancreatitis, inflammation of one of the organs involved in digestion, which can be very painful. Vegetables are fine to share, so long as they are boiled and unseasoned.
  • If the weather is warm/hot, take care of exercising animals, particularly those with short noses (brachycephalic) who are prone to exercise intolerance and collapse.
  • Take care with spring plants and flowers in the garden or inside – tulips, daffodils and other bulb flowers are toxic to animals, with the bulb itself being the most toxic component.
  • Keep up with parasite control, especially that with tick protection, as with the warmer weather animals are more likely to come across parasites when out and about.
  • Make sure you are aware of who to contact if anything untoward occurs. Make sure your pet is registered with a local vet. During the weekends or on bank holidays, your vet may provide their own ‘out of hours’ service, or may use an external provider. Make sure you are no more than half an hour away from an ‘out of hours’ service, as time is critical in an emergency. Make sure you are aware of the fees associated with using an out of hours service and ideally make sure pets are insured so they are financially covered during an emergency.

What are the best ingredients for making dog-friendly Easter eggs?

Carob is a chocolate alternative that is safe for dogs to eat, with easter eggs being able to be fashioned out of this in moulds. Otherwise, carrots, bananas, oats, sweet potato, eggs, and peanut butter (non-xylitol containing) are all safe ingredients (in moderation!) to use when making easter dog friendly treats.

Are all types of chocolate toxic to dogs?

Although extremely palatable, it is not recommended for dogs to eat chocolate. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which (although humans can process) is toxic to dogs, cats and rabbits. 

Theobromine is in cocoa solids, and so the toxic threshold for different types of chocolate (milk, dark, white etc.) varies on their cocoa content. White chocolate does not contain cocoa solids and thus theobromine, and so is technically non-toxic to dogs. However, it contains high levels of fat which can initiate conditions such as pancreatitis in both susceptible and non-susceptible dogs depending on the quantity ingested. 

Milk chocolate contains a lower cocoa percentage than dark chocolate and so takes a higher quantity to cause a toxicity. The richer the dark chocolate, the smaller the quantity required to cause a toxicity. 

Chocolate toxicity is very dependent on a dog’s weight too – unlike with toxins such as raisins/grapes, the toxic threshold of chocolate is well documented in dogs.  The heavier the dog, the higher the quantity needed to cause a toxicity and the more tolerant they are to high cocoa solid percentages.

Even a small amount of chocolate can be fatal for dogs, even if not directly. Although feeding one square of milk chocolate to a large dog does not lead to toxicity, once a dog has the taste for chocolate they are much more likely to seek it out and steal. 

Equally, although one square of milk chocolate may not be toxic to a certain animal, one square of dark chocolate may be, and it is often difficult to distinguish the cocoa percentage in a product. 

One ‘square’ of a home-made chocolate brownie may be toxic to a dog where one square of milk chocolate may not! Home-made items tend to contain more cocoa powder than shop bought items too.

What are the signs that a dog has eaten chocolate?

Theobromine negatively affects the nervous system of an animal around 6 to 12 hours after ingestion. Mild chocolate poisoning or toxicity in dogs presents as:

  • Drinking and weeing more
  • Gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Restlessness
  • More severe signs include a fast heart rate
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Mucus membranes (such as the gums) going a blue colour (cyanosis)
  • A wobbly gait (ataxia)
  • Can progress to seizing and a coma.

What should dog owners do if they think their pet has consumed chocolate over Easter?

If a dog is seen to ingest chocolate, your vet should immediately be contacted for advice. Have to hand the packaging of the chocolate or chocolate product, or recipe if homemade, as this will help the vet to determine whether action needs to be taken. 

The weight of your dog, the quantity ingested, and cocoa percentage are crucial pieces of information needed. The vet will then be able to determine whether your dog needs to be made sick, and whether further treatment after this needs to be instigated. 

It is only effective making an animal vomit up to four hours after ingestion of a toxin, and so early action is crucial to ensure the toxin is not absorbed by the body. The vet may also prescribe activated charcoal to ‘mop up’ any remaining toxins left in the gastrointestinal system. 

Depending on whether or not clinical signs are occurring, a dog may need to be hospitalised.

Alessandra Pacelli

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