6 spring hazards for pets

While it’s lovely to spend more time outside in spring, pet owners should be aware of some important risks.

After the long, dark days of winter, the warm evenings and brightly coloured flowers of spring often can’t come soon enough – and we’re not the only ones who look forward to this time of year.

Spring also means our pets can spend more time outside, bask in the sun and explore our gardens and beyond. However, along with the sunshine, flowers and lure of Easter chocolate, come a few extra risks for your pet.

Here are some things to watch out for during the spring months:

Easter gives us the chance to spend quality time with our families, and enjoy plenty of Easter chocolate and tasty hot cross buns. Easter treats can pose a threat to our pets, however.

Chocolate poisoning causes lots of pet emergencies every year, especially around Easter time, when Easter egg hunts mean that chocolate is left lying around for them to find.

Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which can be deadly to cats and dogs. This is because, unlike us, they can’t metabolise theobromine effectively. Different types of chocolate have varying levels of theobromine, with dark chocolate containing more than milk chocolate.

The most common symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, urinating more, an irregular heartbeat, tremors and fits/seizures.

A large dose of chocolate can even induce a coma or death. Symptoms can occur within a few hours to up to a day after ingestion. If you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate, contact your vet immediately.

Other Easter treats should also be kept out of your pet’s reach, including hot cross buns. These fruity buns contain ingredients such as sultanas, raisins, dried fruit, lemon zest and nutmeg, which are all toxic to animals. Easter sweets containing artificial sweeteners such as xylitol can also be dangerous for pets if ingested and should be kept away from animals.

Easter decorations can be hazardous for pets – for example, the fake grass and little fluffy chicks that come in Easter baskets. If your pet swallows these, they can get stuck at the back of their throats, or in their stomachs, and will not be able to pass through the intestines. Keep Easter decorations and small toys well out of your pet’s reach, or consider using different, safer, decorations this year.

Certain flowers, shrubs, wild plants and mushrooms can be extremely dangerous for your pet, so be aware of keeping your pets safe in the garden this Easter.

Species of poisonous plants that are common during springtime include lilies, daffodils, azaleas, amaryllis, snowdrops, aconite, cyclamen, rhododendron, poinsettia and tulips.

While it’s impossible to know where your pet is at all times, ensuring your garden is free from these plants will limit their exposure to potentially harmful flora.

As well as toxic plants, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers all need to be kept in safe, inaccessible places, since these can lead to serious problems if swallowed. You should also prevent access to plants that have already been treated with such substances. In many cases, safer, non-toxic alternatives are preferable and are equally effective. You should also beware of snail and slug pellets, since a toxic compound in the pellets can cause poisoning for pets.

Outdoor flowers are one thing, but as many people like to decorate their homes with fresh flowers in spring, you should also be mindful of spring bouquets. For example, all parts of Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats, including the petals, leaves, stem and pollen. Ingesting even a small part of this plant can cause severe kidney failure. Before you buy flowers, check that they pose no risk to pets and advise guests to do the same before visiting your house.

If you do happen to notice any signs of poisoning – such as vomiting, drooling, diarrhoea, disorientation or even collapsing – then contact your vet immediately.

For tips on caring for your rabbit, and poisonous plants to be aware of, check the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund website. As rabbits can't vomit, it can be difficult to know if they've eaten something toxic, so it's worth being aware that anything grown from a bulb (crocuses, daffodils and tulips, for example) is poisonous to rabbits.

Just like people, cats and dogs can develop allergies to plants, grass, pollens and other substances during springtime – and the symptoms can often be very similar to ours. These symptoms include itchy skin, ear problems, hair loss, inflamed skin, respiratory issues (allergies can aggravate asthma in cats if they suffer from it), runny eyes and changes in behaviour. If you notice these symptoms, take your pet for a check-up at the vet.

Along with sunshine, spring brings about many pesky little creatures. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to limit the chances of your pet getting fleas and ticks.

Firstly, treat your pet with anti-flea and tick products. There are many products on the market, and many sold within pet shops are either ineffective or take too long to kill ticks before they transmit a disease to your pet, so it’s best to check which preventative products your vet recommends.

While no longer a common flea product in dogs, permethrin is highly toxic and even fatal to cats. If you accidentally apply any inappropriate parasite product to your cat, bathe your cat in lukewarm water with a mild detergent and contact your vet immediately.

Adequate parasite control doesn’t just mean treating your pets. It’s also important to ensure all soft furnishings are cleaned and the house is vacuumed regularly. Use a household flea spray.

Sometimes, however, despite your best intentions, your pet can still get fleas. Symptoms include scratching, dark specks in their fur, bites on your own skin and hair loss – especially around the back/tail area.

Regularly check your pet for fleas by combing them with a fine-tooth comb over a white sheet. If there are many dark specks, these are highly likely to be flea droppings.

It is important to consider insect-related injuries, which can begin around Easter time. Pets often enjoy chasing after wasps and bees and can be stung in the process.

In most cases, wasp and bee stings are not emergencies and if the sting is not too serious, you can treat it yourself. For a pet with a bee sting, remove the sting if it’s still in place and clean the area with a little bicarbonate of soda. For a wasp sting, gently clean the area with lemon juice or malt vinegar.

If your pet is stung near the mouth or neck, then you may need to contact your vet. Like humans, some cats and dogs can be allergic to stings. If this is the case, you may notice swellings, distress and breathing difficulties.

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