How to Keep Halloween Safe with your Pet
Halloween represents many people’s favorite times of the year. Whether you are looking for cool weather, changing leaves, spooky decorations, or just gobs of candy, there is a lot to enjoy. This time of year also marks a spike in animals rushing to the ER. I wanted to run down the most common reasons pets get into trouble, so you can keep them safer, and spend more time enjoying the frightful time of year.
The first, and maybe most obvious Halloween hazard just has to be candy. By now, most people know chocolate can be dangerous to dogs with signs ranging from stomach upset and excitation, to heart arrhythmias, seizures and death depending on how much is ingested and the percent coco content. If you know how much and what type of chocolate was ingested, the expected level of toxicity can usually be predicted, and help determine how significant the treatment will have to be. The sooner pets can be seen and treated, the more likely side effects can be avoided.
Another toxin can hide out in Halloween treats. The artificial sweetener Xylitol, found in sugar free candy, gum, and other products, has caused illness and death, particularly in dogs. This sugar substitute can be found in some medications as well and has even be found in some types of peanut butter. Animals affected experience drops in blood sugar that can cause weakness, fainting, seizures, or coma. Larger doses can cause enough liver damage to cause failure, even after the low blood sugar effects have passed, or even if they do not occur. While most dogs that ingest xylitol will need careful monitoring and treatment, they usually respond well if provided care before they are in liver failure.
Another seemingly healthy alternative to candy that shows up a lot this time of year are raisins and grapes. These have been associated with development of kidney failure in pets for years. It has only recently been found that the tartaric acid (used to make cream of tartar) appears to be the cause of these signs. This is why it is important to look out for other food items that contain these ingredients or natural grape flavoring. The first sign of toxicity is usually vomiting, but the difficult part about it is that once the kidneys are in failure, it is generally fatal. If a pet has been exposed, early intervention almost always prevents serious kidney damage. Really, it is best to make sure all treats are kept behind a closed door where a pet can’t get to them, period.
A less obvious danger for Halloween are the new decorations, costumes, sounds, and activities themselves. While many pets tolerate changes well, a large population of pets will face anxiety as their territory is altered and seemingly invaded by bizarre creatures. Even just the fact that the doorbell may ring 20 times one night could be enough to send some dogs to the ER. Most people know if their pet has anxious tendencies and what will trigger them. While a normal dog may bark and look a bit confused at their owner in mask for the first time, most settle down when they get used to things. Some animals, especially those that are territorial, bark at visitors or through the window frequently, or are visibly upset or aggressive when costumes are worn, should take measures to limit the distress these things can cause.
While gradually training to desensitize pets to new things is best, this takes a very long time and not all pets will respond enough alone. Keeping your pet in a separate room for Halloween or when trick or treaters are supposed to come by can help reduce stimulation. It can be beneficial to change, lower the volume, or remove a doorbell if that is a trigger for your pet, and either have visitors knock, or have a bowl of treats outside to refill through the night. Many of our patients have medications to help manage anxiety during nights like these so they don’t get worked up. While most people manage the signs at home (mostly to keep down barking or stop a pet from attacking their zombie decoration) they are often brushed off without recognizing the distress causing anxious behaviors.
Despite these worries, there are so many great ways to enjoy Halloween with your pet! The cool weather, falling leaves, pumpkins, and even the costumes can all make for this being one of the best times of year for pets and owners alike.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline Animal Poison Control Center: (855) 764-7661