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Easter pet safety: Keep lilies away from cats, chocolate away from dogs

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White lilies are a Christian symbol of the Resurrection, and are popular decorative elements during the Easter season. However, these lovely flowers are also toxic to housecats. The FDA warns that Easter lilies, tiger lilies, Asiatic lilies, daylilies, and Japanese show lilies are poisoning to cats in their entirety.

According to the FDA, even a very small amount of lily flower, leaf, or pollen can cause acute kidney failure in cats if treatment is not initiated promptly. One sign that a cat has consumed part of a lily is vomiting. By 12 to 24 hours after consuming the toxic substance, the cat may begin to urinate frequently. FDA veterinarian Melane McLean warns that kidney failure can occur, causing the cat's death four to seven days after eating the plant. Prompt treatment is essential, and may include induced vomiting as well as intravenous fluids for hydration.

Other species of lily that are harmful to a cat -- but not fatal as Easter lilies are -- include calla lilies and peace lilies; these varieties can irritate a cat's mouth and esophagus, and should also be kept out of a cat's reach. Lilies of the valley can cause abnormal heart rhythm if consumed by a cat, and should also be kept far away from these pets.

Another popular Easter tradition is a basket of decorated eggs and chocolate candies. However, this custom can also be extremely dangerous for pets, as consuming chocolate can kill a dog. According to veterinarians, no amount of chocolate is safe for a dog to consume. Theobromine, a natural chemical found in chocolate, is metabolized relatively quickly by humans, but very slowly by dogs. As little as 115 milligrams of dark chocolate per 2.2 pounds of a dog's body weight can kill the pet by causing a rapid heartbeat, seizures, and respiratory failure. (Chocolate is not good for cats, either, but has a more pronounced effect on dogs.)

Finally, xylitol, a substance used in sugar-free candies and products such as toothpaste, can be lethal to dogs. Broadly speaking, pets should not eat human food; in particular, sugar-free products containing xylitol pose an especial danger to dogs. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can cause a dangerous surge of insulin in dogs, leading to a dramatic drop in blood sugar. At sufficiently high doses, xylitol can cause liver failure in dogs. As little as two sticks of sugar-free gum can kill a small dog.

Take care of your pets during this Easter season. If you decorate with flowers, keep them out of your pets' reach. Don't feed human food to animals, and take particular care to keep chocolate and xylitol-sweetened treats away from pets.

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