Halloween is a time for clever costumes, sugary treats, and spooky fun. But these fall festivities can also present risks for pets. We spoke with our veterinary experts about Halloween-related pet mishaps they’ve encountered over the years. Don’t let one of these scary situations happen to you and your beloved companion.
Halloween Scares at the Vet Clinic
While out trick-or-treating at night, some families use glow sticks to keep themselves visible and safe. But if you leave these items laying around the house, your curious dog or cat might be tempted to chew on them. Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary advisor for petMD, once received a call about a dog who got into a bag of glow sticks.
“The dog was drooling like crazy and obviously unhappy, on top of looking like an iridescent space alien,” Coates remembers. While the liquid inside of the glow stick tastes awful and can sometimes even make pets vomit, Coates assured her client that it is not actually toxic. “She offered her dog a handful of treats to help get rid of the taste, and he was soon back to normal.”
A glowing pet may be a scary sight to behold, but other Halloween mishaps can be life-threatening. One of the most common emergencies veterinarians see during Halloween involves dogs eating candy—especially chocolate. Chocolate can be toxic to both dogs and cats. Symptoms of chocolate toxicity may include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures.
“Several dogs get into the Halloween candy if it is left in their reach,” says Dr. Katie Grzyb, medical director at One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. “Chocolate can be toxic at certain amounts. Luckily, in many cases, if ingestion is caught early enough, the patient can be brought to their veterinarian and emesis (vomiting) can be induced. Some dogs may require hospitalization with fluids, charcoal, and monitoring for arrhythmias and/or neurologic signs.”
Halloween candies that contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, can also be poisonous to pets. Pet parents should also be cautious of candy wrappers, which can cause gastrointestinal upset or intestinal blockages, if ingested.
Dr. Steven Friedenberg, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, recalls one instance where a smaller mixed-breed dog ate an entire bag of candy that was filled with all sorts of treats, ranging from chocolate bars to gummy worms. “We induced vomiting and were able to get many of the candy wrappers out of the dog's stomach, but much of the chocolate had been absorbed already,” says Friedenberg, who specializes in emergency and critical care.
The dog needed to be hospitalized and put on medications to control elevated heart rate and blood pressure, he says, as well as receive sedatives for agitation associated with chocolate ingestion. “Fortunately, the dog did well, but it was an expensive stay for the owners.”
Dr. Christine Rutter, clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, shares a similar tale of a dog who ate a medley of Halloween candy—but with a ghostly twist. “We induced vomiting and got the dog started on fluids and medications for overnight care, and I went to give the owner an update,” recalls Rutter, who specializes in emergency and critical care. “At the end of the interview, the owner stopped me and asked if there are any ghosts in the hospital. Puzzled, but playing along, I replied that I am unaware of ghosts in the hospital, and that I am in the hospital at all hours, so would have a good chance of seeing them if they existed.”
The owner was completely serious. She told Rutter that her big, friendly Pitbull was terrified of ghosts and cemeteries, and that she chose this 24-hour specialty hospital specifically because it didn’t have any Halloween decorations up. She believed that her canine companion got into the candy because he was overly stressed by the season. Rutter kept a straight face, and assured the owner she would do everything in her power to protect the dog.
“I dutifully passed on the message to the doctor who took over his care for the next shift,” Rutter says. “The dog ended up doing well and not having any unexpected encounters while in our care. Writing, ‘Keep away from Halloween decorations, cemeteries, and ghosts’ on a treatment sheet for a monster-sized, adorable, white meatball of a dog has been one of the highlights of my job.”