Halloween can be a spooky time for both people and pets.
While we prepare our Halloween costumes and stock up on sweet treats, veterinarians at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital are warning pet owners of the potential dangers this holiday brings to pets. From candy and candles to costumes and decorations, all pose significant hazards for our furry companions this time of the year. In fact, data collected from more than 90 BluePearl Pet Hospitals showed a 250 percent increase in pets treated for chocolate toxicity in the week following Halloween.
Allison Biddick, DVM, MS, DACVECC, emergency and critical care specialist at BluePearl in Oklahoma City, affirmed this finding, saying the biggest risk for pets around Halloween is chocolate ingestion. However, candy of any kind could also be cause for concern. Aside from sugar-substitute found commonly in sugar-free gums and mints also pose serious health risks to pets if ingested.
The most common toxicity we see this time of the year is chocolate ingestion. Dogs just can’t resist the smell of all that chocolate around the house,” remarked Dr. Biddick. “Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate pose the highest risks, but even milk chocolate can be toxic for pets. It’s best to keep all candy far away from pets’ reach, and to keep a close eye on them on Halloween day and the days following…you just don’t know if or when they’ll find a hidden stash of candy.”
Dr. Biddick shared these six expert tips to help keep pets safe this Halloween.
Six tips to keep pets safe
- Keep the candy away. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are toxic to your dogs and cats. Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate contain the highest levels of theobromine and caffeine, while milk chocolate contains less. The severity of clinical signs is based on your pet’s size and the type and amount of chocolate ingested. Clinical signs may range from mild (vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite) to severe (seizures, tremors, severely increased heart rate, high blood pressure). Death is possible in severe intoxications. Sugar-free candies also pose a risk if they contain xylitol. Xylitol can cause liver damage and low blood sugar. If you think your pet has ingested something toxic, immediately call a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661. A small fee may be associated with this service.
- Properly dispose of wrappers. Just as ingestion of candies and treats can be dangerous, so too can the ingestion of wrappers. Larger dogs and cats may be able to access candy even if it is on a high counter, so consider putting the candy away in a cabinet or behind a door. Make sure children are throwing their wrappers away in a trash can instead of leaving them around the house. Depending on the size of the wrapper and size of the pet, a gastrointestinal obstruction (which sometimes requires surgery) could occur. Candy bags also pose a threat, as a pet’s head can get stuck inside, causing panic and hyperventilation. The bag then forms a seal around the pet’s face, which may lead to death.
- Keep the costumes minimal. Costumes may contain unusually textured items that are interesting for pets. And when pets find something new or exciting, they often try to take a bite! Dogs and cats may try to chew off dangling costume buttons or jewels or chew on other plastic costume accessories. This can pose a foreign body obstruction hazard. Try to keep costumes minimal and be sure all costume elements are securely glued or stitched on. You may also want to consider dressing in a room that is closed off from your pet.
- Keep electrical cords and candles out of reach. Decorations, cords, and plug in items can pose a risk if your pet tries to chew on them. Chewing on the wires can cause burns on the tongue, gums, lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs, or cause electrocution. Ensure candles are out of reach of pets, so they do not knock them over or get burned trying to sniff them. If possible, opt for battery-operated candles. If your pet is overly curious, try to keep all decorations and accessories out of reach (i.e. on taller counters, in drawers, etc.). Monitor your pet when they are around new objects to evaluate their response.
- Plan ahead for anxious pets. If your cat or dog has anxiety associated with the doorbell ringing, strangers, or loud noises, consider having an appointment with your veterinarian prior to Halloween. They may prescribe medications or offer supplements to help ease your pet’s nerves. Other things to try besides medications are isolating your pet to an area that is quieter and familiar, turning on TV or calming music, and using a puzzle treat that will keep your pet occupied for a couple of hours.
- Confine pets during prime Trick-or-Treating times. Anytime the front door is being opened frequently, there is increased risk of pets escaping the home. If your pet tends to bolt out the door, it is a good idea to keep them confined to an area out of the way with a baby gate, crate, or closed door. Pets that are generally nervous outside do not know the dangers of busy streets, strangers, cold weather, and other animals. Be sure your pet is equipped with an up-to-date collar and speak to your veterinarian about microchipping—a more permanent form of pet identification. Taking these precautionary measures will help to ensure a safe return home, should your pet become lost.
Pets depend on their owners to keep them safe and comfortable. By being aware of potential risks and keeping a close eye on your pet’s behavior, Halloween can be enjoyed by the entire family. If you have any questions regarding preparing your pet for the holidays, contact your veterinarian in advance to make a plan .