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Question: Dear Dr. Klein, Halloween is right around the corner, and as an experienced veterinarian, I suspect you’ve seen all manners of Halloween hazards for dogs. I’ve heard that chocolate or candy containing artificial sweeteners can be dangerous for dogs. Can you please explain why these are dangerous and provide a list of other Halloween safety tips I can share with my friends and family?
Answer: Having spent most of my career as an emergency room veterinarian at one of the largest emergency hospitals in the country, I appreciate that you want to raise awareness for the many risks Halloween can pose to dogs. Each Halloween, veterinary clinics care for dogs (and cats) that have gotten into trouble on and around Halloween – and there are many ways for dog owners to take precautions.
Halloween Dog Safety and Dangerous Treats
Many of the food and treats we enjoy on Halloween are toxic to dogs, and some can be deadly. Unlike cats, who tend to be picky eaters, many dogs will eat anything – including the wrapper in which the treat is stored.
The treats below are especially dangerous to your pets, so be sure to keep them out of reach:
- Chocolate: Chocolate consumption in dogs is a top ingestion problem at Halloween. Chocolate contains theobromine, which can be harmful and sometimes fatal to your dog. Baking chocolate is exceptionally high in this chemical. The general rule of thumb is the darker the chocolate, the more danger it poses. If your pet consumes chocolate, contact your veterinarian, a veterinary emergency center, or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately. Quick treatment can minimize the danger to your dog.
- Candies and Gum: The biggest concern with candy is the risk of the ingredient xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol commonly used as an artificial sweetener. Xylitol is toxic to pets. This ingredient is often used in sugar-free items but has been showing up in more and more foods, even those that are not labeled as sugar-free. Most often, xylitol is found in sugar-free gum, sugar-free candy, and sugar-free baked goods. It is sometimes found in toothpaste and peanut butter as well.
- Hard Candies: Hard candy can also present a problem for dogs. Large quantities of hard candies and gum can clump up in the stomach and cause a risk of obstruction.
- Raisins: Some Halloween treat-givers often choose to pass out small boxes of raisins. This option is great for children, but raisins and grapes are dangerous to dogs and can cause renal failure. Be sure that you keep raisins out of your dog’s reach at all times. If your dog consumes raisins, please call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency center immediately. Prompt action can be helpful in reducing the risk to your pet.
- Candy Wrappers: Toxicity with candy is not the only concern. The wrappers can also be an issue, as they can become lodged in your pet’s throat or intestinal tract, requiring surgery to remove. Wrappers that are foil or cellophane have the potential to result in gastrointestinal irritation.
Halloween Costume and Decor Dog Safety
The trend of dressing dogs in costumes has increased over the years. It is quite simple to find costumes created specifically for pets, however, that does not necessarily ensure their safety. Beads, snaps, buttons, ribbons, elastic, and fabric can all be intestinal hazards.
Avoid purchasing costumes for pets that have dangling parts or pieces that can be chewed off. In addition, costumes on your pet can result in overheating, impaired vision, and even difficulty breathing if it covers the face or is too restrictive around the pet’s neck or chest.
Never leave your dog unattended while they’re wearing clothing or other decorative items. If you decide to dress your dog up this Halloween, be sure to check out these tips for dressing up your dog safely.
Glow Sticks and Glow Jewelry
Glow sticks are a fun Halloween trend and can help keep humans a little safer in the nighttime, but for dogs and cats, these items look like toys. Glow-in-the-dark items are filled with a liquid that if punctured, will leak the glowing content. If ingested, this fluid causes mouth pain, irritation, and excessive salivation. Keep these items away from your dog to ensure Halloween dog safety.
Candles, Flashlights, and Battery-Operated Décor
The fact that this holiday is primarily celebrated at night means greater use of candles and battery-operated decorations. Use candles with care. Wagging tails and sniffing noses can land on flames that may result in injury and burns. Keep all battery-operated toys and decor out of reach from curious pets, as they can be chewed or ingested, resulting in a visit to the emergency veterinarian clinic.
Even the best-behaved dogs can become skittish or overwhelmed during busy times. Know your dog and watch their body language to decide if they are best tucked away in a crate or a quiet room as opposed to joining the family, greeting the costumed neighbors, or participating in a Halloween party. To prevent your dog from running out the door, make sure they are under control as you open the door for trick-or-treaters.
Walk your dog while it is still light out, if possible. Your dog may find candy, wrappers, and broken eggs on lawns and streets. Make sure that these tempting treats stay out of reach. Don’t leave your dog unattended outside on Halloween, even if they are behind a fence.
Keep in mind that all the activity and commotion can increase your dog’s stress levels unnecessarily. Also, well-meaning neighbors may give unwanted treats to your dog, so make sure your pet doesn’t eat anything they shouldn’t.