If you have been looking for a definitive guide to pet safety during Halloween, here it is. We cover the primary concerns here and there’s a visual summary below.
Chocolate Is Not Safe for Dogs to Eat
Many dogs are inherently attracted to the smell and taste of chocolate, making it a significant threat. In general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more poisonous it is. The chemicals in chocolate that are dangerous to pets, methylxanthines, are similar to caffeine and more heavily concentrated in the darker varieties. In fact, a 50-pound dog can be sickened by ingesting only one ounce of Baker’s chocolate! On the other hand, it may take up to eight ounces, (half a pound) of milk chocolate to cause poisoning in that same sized dog. White chocolate contains very low amounts of methylxanthine and rarely causes poisoning. To avoid issues, keep Halloween candy well out of the reach of pets at all times. If you think your pet may have ingested chocolate, contact a veterinarian immediately.
Candy Ingestion Excess (aka Candy Overindulgence)
Many pets are indiscriminate when it comes to eating tasty treats and can gorge themselves on snacks and food meant for humans. Large amounts of sugary, high-fat candy that are ingested can lead to pancreatitis in pets. Very serious and even potentially fatal, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and is often quite painful. Clinical signs may not show up right away and it may be two to four days after your pet ingests the candy. Clinical signs of pancreatitis include decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and abdominal pain. While these signs are non-specific, if left untreated, pancreatitis can potentially lead to organ damage. In addition to over indulgence, other ingredients in candies may be toxic to your pet such as chocolate or candies that contain xylitol (an artificial sweetener). At the first signs your pet has ingested a large amount of any type of candy, it is recommended that you contact a veterinarian right away.
Generally, when pets eat candy, they don’t bother to remove the wrappers. Ingestion of foil and cellophane wrappers can cause a life-threatening bowel obstruction, which if severe, can require surgical intervention to correct. Watch for vomiting, decreased appetite, not defecating, straining to defecate, or lethargy. X-rays or other diagnostics such as an abdominal ultrasound may be necessary to diagnose this problem. Do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian for recommendations if your pet has ingested candy wrappers. Even a few of these wrappers may cause a problem.
Glow Sticks and Glow Jewelry
Pets, especially cats, love to chew on these items. It has been estimated that over the past year, the Pet Poison Helpline received nearly 80 calls concerning pets that punctured glow sticks or glow jewelry, and 70 percent of the calls involved cats. While not usually life-threatening, their contents can cause irritation in the mouth, as well as profuse drooling and foaming at the mouth.
Halloween Decorations and Lighting
Wires and cords from electric lights and other decorations should be kept out of reach of your pets. If chewed, your pet might suffer cuts, burns, or receive a possibly life-threatening electrical shock. Other dangerous decorations to watch out for are rubber eyeballs and toy spiders (just like with children, these may be a choking hazard for your pet). Also, watch out where you place fake cobwebs this Halloween season (these can entangle birds and other wildlife). Bottom line, never leave your pets alone with Halloween decorations.
Carved pumpkins that light up the night are a great way to celebrate Halloween, but do exercise caution if you choose to add a candle. Pets can easily knock a lit pumpkin over with a wagging tail, or when they walk by, causing an increased risk for a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames.
When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your cat or dog doesn’t dart outside! If they are prone to anxiety, you may want to keep your dog or cat in another room while the trick-or-treaters pass through.
Make sure your dog or cat has a proper form of identification this Halloween. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned to you. This example is one good reason to have your pet microchipped!
Make sure your pet’s costume isn’t restrictive. So try on the costume beforehand to ensure it doesn’t bother them. Look for any embellishments that he or she could chew off and remove them. And don’t leave your pet unsupervised while the costume is being worn.
Check out the image below for a quick summary of Halloween pet safety.
Keeping these things in mind as Halloween approaches will keep your holiday pet scares and stresses on the down-low. Happy Halloween!
Kari Frankhouse, DVM
Molly Abernathy, DVM