Post-Easter Breakdown!

By Jo Marshall, CVT, NREMT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

Holidays are busy in a poison control center. I know that is odd but it is the way it is here at Pet Poison Helpline®. It seems that when we celebrate, our pets do, too! Usually these pet celebrations are unplanned invasions of the trappings of our festivities. At Easter, we get a tremendous number of chocolate calls, and this year I decided to track the quantity of chocolate that was ingested by our callers’ pets.  I asked all of our veterinarians and veterinary technicians in the call center to send me their totals.

So here is the breakdown of the 2017 Easter Weekend chocolate ingestions! I am going to start out with our smallest ingestions and work up to the big one this year – milk chocolate!

White Chocolate:  The ingestion of white chocolate totaled 6.9 ounces for the long weekend. White chocolate is really no big deal. I think it would be difficult for most dogs to ingest enough to result in toxicity. But it can still cause a pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) along with vomiting and diarrhea.

Baked Goods: Along with a vast array of brownies, chocolate cake, cookies and breads that totaled about 8 pounds, we had associated ingestions or other toxins included. Those other toxins included raisins, the sugar-free sweetener called xylitol and to top it all off, a few of the brownies contained marijuana.  For those of you that do not know, raisins can result in acute renal failure in dogs. Xylitol can kill your dog. We can see a rapid drop in blood sugar levels and then liver failure at higher doses. I have a personal goal to spread the word on xylitol! Please spread the word on this dangerous and very common sweetener that we all have in our homes and it can kill your dog! Lastly, we have the marijuana laced brownies. That’s a change on the normal Easter that we celebrate at our house. Not judging folks, just keep it away from the pets! Marijuana can result in profound sedation, dilated pupils or glassy-eyed appearance, walking like they are drunk, vomiting, changes in heart rate and blood pressure and in high doses we can see coma occur.  Marijuana ingestions in dogs are rapidly increasing with the legalization of marijuana. But it is still not safe for dogs!

Dark Chocolate:  The darker the chocolate, the higher the risk of toxicity and I also believe that the higher the quality of the dark chocolate (the really expensive chocolate) the more likely we are to have significant concerns.  This year we saw a total ingestion of approximately 6.5 pounds of the good stuff ingested by dogs.  They say that dark chocolate is good for us (at least that is what I tell myself) but it is not at all good for our pets. We can see it cause vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, changes in body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and in high doses we can have seizures occur.  That seizure dose is about 2 ounces per 10 pounds of body weight with the dark chocolate.  Other signs start at a much lower dose, so dark chocolate ingestions are almost always a concern.

Milk Chocolate: This is our biggie this year! We had almost 30 pounds of chocolate ingested by our caller’s dogs during the weekend of the Easter Season!  Milk chocolate is not as concentrated in the theobromine that causes toxicity as the dark chocolates are but given the significant quantities of some of the ingestions, they were serious.  These added up quickly when we had dogs eating entire 12 ounce bags of Hershey’s eggs and 12 packs of the Cadbury Cream Eggs.  Not to mention the Chocolate Easter Bunnies consumed!

Chocolate Easter Bunnies: The chocolate Easter bunnies made up the bulk of out milk chocolate ingestions with a total of 53 bunnies ingested by dogs. And if I recall, the largest one was in the ballpark of 3 pounds!  Here is a call out to an entrepreneurial pet lover, design an Easter Bunny for the dogs to put in their basket so they can leave ours alone!

So now for the educational part of this blog. How did this all go so wrong and why did the dogs get into such a large quantity of chocolate?  It is easy to say that sometimes things just happen and that is so very true. I have had this in my own home on more than one occasion. Here are some of the exposure scenarios that we had over the weekend:

  1. The darn Easter Bunny hid the basket for the kids but unfortunately, during the night or early morning hours, the dog followed the scent of the Easter Bunny (dogs are hunter’s you know) and cleaned out all the baskets! Especially guilty of this behavior are Labrador Retrievers and Labrador Mixes. Thanks goodness, no one caught the Easter Bunny, because as far as I can tell, he got everywhere this Easter.
  2. Before you let the dog out in the yard in the morning, please make sure the Easter Bunny has not hidden chocolate eggs over the entire yard. You will not find them but again, Bunny scent all over the yard and that Labrador is sure to follow the Bunny Trail!
  3. When you leave for church, either take the dogs with you to your service or put the baskets up high or in a locked room! Lots of raiding of baskets and goodies took place during Easter Services all around the country this year. Again, Labrador Retrievers are very guilty of waiting for the door to close for the big basket raid. They patiently wait, leaving you to assume that they are sleeping and will never move while you are gone, so why worry. You return to find all baskets empty and the dog still sleeping in the same spot. Go figure!!
  4. Do not leave the dessert set out when dinner is done. Again – Labradors don’t care if it is on the counter or table. They just head on up and clean up for you. I am sure that they do believe that this is their job and have only the best intentions in this endeavor.
  5. Do not bring any sugar-free candies in the house if they contain xylitol! Just don’t do it! It is a disaster waiting to happen.
  6. As Easter starts to wind down and the kiddos are losing interest in their baskets, either dispose of it or get it put away to be doled out in small, non-toxic doses to the kids as they ask for their goodies. There is that point where the kiddos lose interest and forget about the Easter goodies, but the Labrador NEVER does.

Now to wrap this all up, total ingestion of chocolate or chocolate containing products over Easter weekend ended up at about 45 pounds of goodies consumed by dogs. Good news, all our celebrants survived, some needed to vomit it up and some needed veterinary care, but all in all, our team did a great job in managing these guys and preventing real danger or death!

Now I hear you saying, dogs did all of this celebrating? Nope, we had a parakeet that nibbled a Dove chocolate and did fine. And a midway through my day on Easter, I got a panicked call from my sister regarding a squirrel. Evidently, the Easter Bunny had hidden plastic eggs filled with chocolates around their yard and she saw a squirrel running off with a bright green plastic egg. They kept the dog out of all of it quite nicely, but then as I said before, things just happen!!

I have attached her for your viewing pleasure, my fur kids in their Easter finest. Remi is a 3 year old Vizsla and Clifford is a 1 year old something or other.  If you can figure it out, let me know!