By Monica Weymouth
If you’re a pet parent, October 31 has the potential to be extra scary. In addition to the standard ghosts and goblins, Halloween presents some very real dangers to our pets. Here are six common pet emergencies that send furry friends to the veterinarian on Halloween—and expert Halloween pet safety tips on how to avoid them.
Kids aren’t the only ones who look forward to Halloween candy. Dogs have been known to sneak a few treats, too, and the results can lead to a pet emergency.
“Most of our significant cases during Halloween are dogs that have gotten into a bag or backpack and ate the contents—sometimes pounds of candy!—and dogs that get onto tables or counters and eat candy from a bowl or bag,” says Dr. Charlotte Flint, a senior consulting veterinarian for the Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour poison control hotline.
Candies that contain chocolate can be especially toxic, depending on the type and amount consumed, says Dr. Flint. While white “chocolate” is almost harmless, milk and dark chocolates contain theobromine, a caffeine-like substance that can be dangerous to dogs.
Depending on the amount eaten and the size of your dog, symptoms can range from vomiting and diarrhea to heart arrhythmias, tremors and seizures.
“A few M&Ms are not likely to cause a problem for dogs, but it is safest to check with Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian if a dog gets into a bag of candy and ingests multiple bars or other larger quantities of chocolate,” says Dr. Flint.
One notable exception is chocolate-covered raisins. Raisins are extremely toxic to dogs and have the potential to cause severe kidney damage. If your dog ingests raisins or grapes, an immediate trip to the pet emergency room is always in order.
If the raisins or chocolate were acutely ingested (up to an hour lapse) your veterinarian may ask you to induce vomiting at home prior to bringing the pet in. So calling your veterinarian first is a good idea.
If you’re a kid, sugar-free candy is a trick-or-treating letdown. But dogs are less discerning—and what these candies lack in calories, they make up for in toxicity.
“Most dog owners are aware that chocolate can be dangerous, but now we’re seeing a lot of candies sweetened with Xylitol, and people don’t realize that these can be lethal,” says Dr. Steven Marks, associate dean and director of medical services at North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine.
Xylitol—a popular sugar substitute in gums, mints, lollipops and other hard candies—can lead to hypoglycemia and liver damage in dogs if enough is consumed.
“Dogs will eat anything, so you have to be careful,” says Dr. Marks. “We took care of a dog that ate a large amount of cash—there’s no reason why they wouldn’t eat a couple packs of sugar-free gum.”
If you suspect that your dog ate artificially sweetened candy, bring him to the nearest pet emergency center.
If you’re expecting lots of trick-or-treaters, keep an extra close eye on your pets for the evening. Even if your cat or dog doesn’t usually try to escape, stress from the ringing doorbell and constant visitors can make them run for an open door.
“The big unrecognized danger of Halloween is the door being open and shut a thousand times a night,” says Dr. Marks. “There are multiple opportunities for pets to bolt, and they could be hit by a car.”
To keep everyone safe and sound, Dr. Marks recommends putting pets in a quiet, comfortable room for the evening. They’ll be less stressed, and so will you.
There’s nothing cuter than a puppy in a pumpkin costume. But before you start checking out pet costumes to dress up your dog or cat for Halloween, ask yourself: Is it for you or for them?
Most animals don’t appreciate being dressed up, says Dr. Marks. If you can’t resist, select a lightweight pet costume that doesn’t restrict your pet’s movement, impair his vision, cover his ears or present choking hazards.
Before the costume party, do a trial run to make sure your pet is comfortable. “Make sure you introduce the costume in a safe, relaxed environment before Halloween,” advises Dr. Marks. “You want your pet to experience it before the excitement of the evening.”
Although rare, bowel obstructions are possible if your dog consumes decorations such as dried corn husks, dried corn cobs or the stems of pumpkins, says Dr. Flint. Signs of an obstruction include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal tenderness, lethargy, constipation and refusing to eat.
Bowel obstructions are considered pet emergencies that require immediate veterinary care.
If the pumpkin or corn is extremely moldy, warns Dr. Flint, your dog may be at risk of ingesting tremorgenic mycotoxins—neurotoxins that can cause tremors, vomiting and diarrhea.
Technically speaking, glow sticks and glow jewelry aren’t toxic. However, if your pet snacks on one, you may end up at the pet ER.
The bitter fluid causes gagging, vomiting, extreme drooling and foaming at the mouth, which is understandably worrisome.
“We’ve had some poor pet owners wake up in the middle of the night to an upset, glowing cat in their bed that is profusely drooling glow-in-the-dark saliva,” says Dr. Flint. “Fortunately, these symptoms are temporary and usually resolve fully within a few hours.”
To help ease symptoms, Dr. Flint recommends feeding your pet tasty treats to help eliminate the bitter taste. If his fur is glowing, give him a bath so he won’t ingest more while grooming.