Whenever I’m on call on Easter weekend, I keep my toxic doses of chocolate and calculator close at hand. Most people know that many dogs like to sneakily indulge in this guilty pleasure just like humans. Chocolates can cause mild symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea all the way up to heart problems and death depending on what kind of chocolate is consumed and how much. Wrapped candies present the additional hazard of creating a potential foreign body risk to the dog who consumed them. Less well known are the plant dangers that surround Easter. My cat, Mickey, introduced one of these dangers to me last Palm Sunday when he decided to chew on the palms we brought home from church. Shortly thereafter, Mickey vomited up pieces of the palm mixed with blood. As his mother and his doctor, this was very terrifying to me because I knew that one of the most deadly poisons known is the Sago Palm.
Sago Palms are also increasingly common indoor bonsai and landscaping plants as well (you can see pictures of Sago Palms here:http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/sago-palm/). Even small amounts of sago palm ingestion can cause liver failure, cardio toxicity or severe heart damage, and death in dogs or cats. The seeds are the most toxic part of the plant but ingestion of any part of the plant can be toxic.
I tried to call our church to find out what kind of palm Mickey ingested but no one at the church knew what kind of palm they bought. Therefore, I treated Mickey aggressively by inducing vomiting, starting him on IV fluids, gastroprotectants and liver protectants in case any of the palms he ingested were the toxic kind. I also left a message with the company who supplied the palms to my church to call me back so I could find out what kind of palms my church bought. When the palm supply company called me back a few days later, they had good news. The palms supplied by my church were the kinds that just cause severe irritation to the gastrointestinal track but they were NOT the more deadly Sago Palms. The man from the supply company also told me that they do sell Sago Palms to churches and every year they get several calls from owners and veterinarians regarding pets poisoned by the palms their owners bring home from church. This year we will be leaving our palm leaves at the church! Lilies are the other toxic plant that we see ingested more commonly around Easter time. Like the Sago Palm, all parts of the Lilly are toxic, although unlike the Sago Palm most of the animals we see suffering ill effects from ingestion are cats. Lilies are reliable causes of kidney failure in cats (you can see pictures of lilies here: (http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/easter-lily/). The best way to prevent Lilly toxicity is to not bring them into a house that contains cats, even if your pet has never shown interest in chewing on plants before. In nature cats chew on many kinds of plants each day so many cats, particularly indoor, take every opportunity to chew on plants when they are available. Treatment for Lilly ingestion depends on how quickly the owner recognizes the problem. If the pet ingested the Lilly very recently, we can induce vomiting and start supportive care similar to how I treated Mickey after his Mystery Palm ingestion. If the ingestion is not recognized quickly the prognosis for return to normal function is not nearly as favorable. Kidney failure and ultimately death are likely to result in untreated cats. Mickey and I have two requests for the panicked owners of all potentially poisoned pets this season. First, don’t wait for symptoms to arise before you bring your pet in for help. Quick treatment is often the deciding factor between life and death. Also, inducing vomiting and a few days of fluids and monitoring is much cheaper than weeks of less effective intensive care later. Second, no matter what thing your pet ingested that has you concerned, please grab a piece of the item, a part of the plant and/or the bag or box of the product and bring it with you to your appointment. Some plants look similar but can have different levels of toxicity. Also, some other common poisons such as rodent poisons can have different ingredients between brands and require completely different kinds of treatments. Add this number to your phone book so you have it handy in case you feel your pet has ingested something that could potentially be toxic:
24/7 Animal Poison Control Center