Beware springtime dangers for your pets

file/staff Easter lilies are among several plants that can be especially toxic to cats. Ingestion of just a few leaves or petals can cause fatal kidney failure. Other plants as well as fertilizer and slug and snail baits can be harmful to pets.

Following Easter services, we are allowed to take home the Easter lilies that we gave to decorate the sanctuary.

Our two lilies went on our dining room table as decoration for the family dinner later that day. Our cats are the first to note any changes, jumping up on the table to see what these new flowers were. I immediately thought of the adage, “curiosity killed the cat but his nine lives brought him back.”

My thoughts then turned to my second year of veterinary school toxicology class. Certain lilies can be especially toxic to cats. Ingestion of just a few leaves or petals can cause fatal kidney failure. Tiger, day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese show lilies are the ones with the kidney toxin.

Peace, Peruvian and calla lilies are not as dangerous but do contain calcium oxalate crystals, which may result in drooling.

The best therapy is to prevent exposure, so I immediately put the plants in a location the cats could not reach. If ingestion occurs, preventing absorption of the toxin is important. This is done by inducing vomiting to remove as much as possible and administration of charcoal to block absorption. Once the toxins are in the blood stream, it is difficult to do anything. Intravenous fluids to flush the toxins out are the only option at this point.

Spring is one of the best times of the year for us and our pets. We can finally be outside on a consistent basis. As for every season, however, it has its dangers as well.

Tulips and hyacinths are other plants that may cause problems. The bulbs especially contain a toxin that causes oral and esophageal irritation resulting in drooling, vomiting and sometimes diarrhea. Daffodils contain lycorine, an alkaloid that can induce vomiting. These are usually more of a problem for dogs than cats, since they like to dig up our gardens.

Some of the fertilizers we use to feed our plants are not good to feed our pets. Bone meal, which is derived from ground, flash frozen bones can harden into a cement-like ball if ingested. This usually requires surgical removal.

Another great fertilizer, blood meal that is made from dried, flash frozen ground blood, may contain up to 12 percent nitrogen. Ingestion can cause GI upset or a more serious and life-threatening condition, pancreatitis.

Slug and snail baits are put out this time of year to protect our vegetable and flower gardens. These baits are often mixed with molasses or brown sugar to make them attractive to the pests. Unfortunately, this also makes them attractive for our pets.

Most of these baits contain metaldehyde, which is a potent neurotoxin. Symptoms can start within minutes of ingestion. Muscle tremors, ataxia and seizures can occur. The increased muscle activity from the tremors and seizures can cause hyperthermia and if the temperature is elevated high enough and long enough, fatal multiorgan failure results.

The only therapy is to control seizures and muscle tremors until the toxic effects wear off. Even with heavy sedation the symptoms can be difficult to control. After seeing several of these patients, I recommend finding a different way to control snails and slugs.

Animals and bugs get more active in the spring the same way we do. Bee stings are common this time of year. The most common symptoms are the same ones we have, localized swelling and pain. Severe allergic reactions can cause trouble breathing secondary to swollen airways.

In the spring, snakes get more active, too, so dogs and cats frequently come in contact with them.

This past Monday when I showed up to work, we had two Boston terriers from the same family with bites to the face. Our ER service starts to see these on a regular basis during the spring, summer and fall. In our region, copperheads, cottonmouths, canebrake rattlesnakes and Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are most common.

Symptoms depend on the type of snake, amount of venom injected, location and size of pet. Dogs usually get bitten in the head or face since they are usually sniffing around where the snakes are hiding. Cats usually get bites on the paws and legs probably because they are trying to claw the snake. Most bites will result in swelling and pain at the site where bitten. In severe cases, they can develop life-threatening symptoms of shock and fever.

Seeking veterinary care as soon as possible is important. With most snakes in our area, the administration of antivenom early on will reduce local symptoms as well as systemic complications.

Spring is one the best times of the year, but there are dangers lurking. You and your pets be careful out there.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to