PULLMAN, Wash. — “As Easter approaches this weekend, animal owners need to consider pet safety along with family plans,” urges Dr. Veronika Kiklevich, head of the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s community practice service.

We’re all familiar with thoughts of chocolate eggs, bunnies, and chicks; however, there are hidden dangers in Easter treats that can be harmful to pets and even the family.    

Most people and all veterinarians realize chocolate should not be provided to companion animals.  Chocolate, in varying quantities and types, can cause vomiting, rapid and sometimes irregular heartbeats, muscle tremors and even death.  “Most pets also don’t need the extra calories,” said Dr. Kiklevich.

If your pet accidentally ingests a significant amount of chocolate, it is important to at least contact a veterinarian or, if symptoms have already started, get the animal to care right away.

Another hazard to pet health is the green “grass” tinsel found in Easter baskets.  The decoration can sometimes be attractive to the family pet.  Dr. Kiklevich said, “Accidental ingestion of the decoration can be painful and costly causing serious problems for your animal’s intestinal tract.”  She explained that the plastic grass can block the intestines or cut the soft tissues.  In the worst case, the animal may need surgery to remove it or the pet could die. 

She also recommends picking up any small toys and hard candies from around the house.  These objects can block the airway of an animal or child.  Her personal experiences around the holidays have shown animals can and will often swallow anything they have access to.  “I once recovered a toy rubber duck that a dog had swallowed,” said Dr. Kiklevich.

“One of the worst things people do is buy their children a chick or a bunny for an Easter Day surprise,” stressed Dr. K, as she is known to her clients.  The practice is not recommended for any family. 

“Often these fragile animals are fatally injured by petting from children and can carry diseases like salmonella, which they can spread to members of the family.  Also, animals like chicks and bunnies require a lot of care and attention, which is difficult for many families to provide, much less follow-up with.  Sadly, many of these animals end up dead or abandoned after the holidays.  The simple advice is, just don’t bring live animals into a home unless the family is ready for a long-term commitment to care.”

Dr. Kiklevich said it is important, during the holiday festivities, to observe any changes in your pet’s behavior or demeanor, including excessive coughing, diarrhea, panting and tremors.  These symptoms can indicate more serious problems, which may require veterinary attention.  

“Often well-meaning guests will provide foods or access to hazards that can make an animal ill or cause injury,” explained Dr. Kiklevich.   “A friendly reminder as they arrive is often all that’s needed along with the precautions a family will take beforehand.” 

Finally, pets left in cars during church services or family meals can suffer with heat-related illnesses as the sun comes out and the season warms.  “Always be very cautious about leaving any animal in a car at any time,” she said.