Halloween – Three Common Mishaps for Pets

Published: October 26, 2015
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Halloween is this week, and truth be told it is not my favorite holiday, particularly when I’m the only veterinarian on call for after-hours emergencies. Here are the three most common calls that I’ve gotten on Halloween, and how to keep your pet safe from similar mishaps.

My Dog Just Ate Halloween Candy

Tempting treats are everywhere on Halloween. The two I worry most about are chocolate and xylitol. Chocolate contains two compounds, theobromine and caffeine, both of which are classified as methylxanthines. Dogs can develop vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperexcitability when they ingest around 9 mg of methylxanthines per pound of body weight. Potentially fatal symptoms like seizures and irregular heart rhythms typically occur when dogs get into 18 mg per pound body weight or more.

The darker a chocolate is the higher its concentration of methylxanthines.

  • Unsweetened baker’s chocolate contains up to 500 mg/ounce
  • Dark semisweet chocolate contains approximately 155 mg/ounce
  • Milk chocolate contains up to 66 mg/ounce.

But dogs are not completely out of the woods, even if what they ate contains less than 9 mg of methylxanthines per pound body weight. Whenever they eat something unusual, particularly if it is relatively high in fat, dogs are at risk for gastroenteritis and/or pancreatitis.

Sugar-free treats containing xylitol are especially dangerous for dogs. Just one or two pieces of xylitol-containing gum can be enough to kill some dogs. Xylitol is rapidly absorbed into a dog’s blood stream, causing large amounts of insulin to be released and blood sugar levels to plummet. Xylitol ingestion is also associated with liver failure in dogs.

Keep Halloween treats away from dogs at all times. If you suspect that your dog has gotten into candy or notice symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, hyperexcitability, or collapse, call a veterinarian immediately. 

My Pet Escaped

Strange people, sights, and sounds coupled with distracted owners and a constantly opening front door... If that isn’t the perfect scenario for escaped pets, I don’t know what is. The best place for dogs and cats on Halloween is in a secure crate or an out of the way room behind a closed door.

If your pet is especially sensitive, consider turning up the sound on a radio or television and using a nonprescription anxiety reliever (e.g., nutritional supplements containing L-theanine or L-tryptophan or pheromone products). If your pet becomes very nervous on Halloween, talk to your veterinarian about the pros and cons of giving a prescription anti-anxiety medication.

To be on the safe side, double check that all of your pet’s forms of identification (tags, microchips, etc.) are up-to-date.

My Pet Chewed on a Glow Stick

When a dog or cat chews on a glow stick and ingests some of its contents, the results can be scary—drooling, pawing at the mouth, agitation, and sometimes even vomiting. But I’ve got good news. The liquid inside glow sticks is not actually toxic, it just tastes awful. For everyone’s safety, I don’t recommend you try to rinse out your pet’s mouth. Just give your dog or cat some time and make sure a bowl of water and some food is available so they can get rid of the taste when they’re ready.

Dr. Jennifer Coates