Halloween Hazards for Your Pets
Peter S. Sakas DVM
Halloween is a holiday that is great fun. Through the years more and more people have really become involved with extensive decorations in and around the house. In addition, there is the candy and trick or treating. Candy is around the house in bowls for the trick or treaters as well as the candy collected by your own kids as they canvas the neighborhood with their own trick or treating. If you have Halloween parties for kids or adults there will be food and drink around as well. With all this food, decorations and activities it can be a time of great danger for your pet. They will be attracted by the tempting smells and may eat what they should not. They may be intrigued by the shimmering, attractive decorations and begin to chew on objects that could cause severe medical problems. In addition, it can also be a stressful time for your pets due to the commotion involved with the holiday. During the holiday you must take steps to be certain that your pets will be safe from potential harm.
Trick or Treaters
It is always fun when trick or treaters come to the door; you admire them in their costumes, and hand out candy. However, your pets do not understand the significance of the holiday and recognize these people dressed in strange costumes as intruders so they want to protect their home against them. The constant ringing of the doorbell and groups of trick or treaters at the door can be quite stressful for your pets. Strangers in strange costumes can lead to a normal friendly pet becoming fearful or overly aggressive. Crating a pet can sometimes lead to them developing diarrhea or injuring themselves when they are confined in this fashion. It may not be a bad idea to keep your pets in a separate, quiet room, away from the door when trick or treaters arrive.
It is important for all family members to recognize that these treats are for people only and are not to be shared with pets. Candy wrappers and lollipop sticks can be hazardous if swallowed. Lollipop sticks and other plastic parts are especially dangerous if ingested by a pet as they can cause intestinal blockage and possibly rupture the intestines, which is life-threatening.
Almost everyone knows that chocolate is toxic for pets. Theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate is the cause of the poisoning, which can be deadly in dogs, especially, and other pets. They actually have an allergic reaction to the theobromine which can be quite severe. Some dogs may not have as severe of a response but it is not worth taking a chance with your pets. Chocolate should be avoided, do not think a little bit is not going to hurt! If your pet is sensitive to the theobromine it does not take much to cause a toxic reaction.
Depending on the amount ingested, chocolate (bakers, semi sweet, milk and dark) can be potentially poisonous to many animals. Theobromine levels are especially high in dark chocolates. In general, the less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it could be. In fact, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine than milk chocolate. Vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate can be seen with the ingestion of as little as 1/4 ounce of baking chocolate by a 10-pound dog. Halloween treats with chocolate are not appropriate for pets.
Other chemicals found in certain candies can also be toxic to your pets. Xylitol, a sweetener found in some candies, mints, baked goods, chocolate, and gum can be toxic to pets if taken in large amounts. Ingestion of significant quantities can produce a fairly sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, incoordination and seizures. Foods containing Xylitol should be kept well out of reach of your pets. Do not take any chances with you pets. As stated before, do not think that a little bit is not going to hurt. You should have plenty of treats around the house that are appropriate for your pets and use them instead of candies.
Avoid the temptation to feed your pets leftovers from your holiday meals. Your pet should be kept on its normal diet. Any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe indigestion and diarrhea. This is particularly true for older animals that have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. Many of these foods are rich; especially those that are high in fat, and can often cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances in pets which could prove fatal. Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) is a very common disease of dogs and is frequently caused by the eating of table scraps. The pancreas plays a role in digestion of food but when an animal eats a rich or fatty meal, the pancreas is ‘overstimulated’ and the organ oversecretes enzymes leading to inflammation of the pancreas and surrounding tissues. Signs of pancreatitis include vomiting and abdominal pain, sometimes quite severe. The condition is very uncomfortable for the pet and sometimes can be fatal. If you notice these type of symptoms seek veterinary care.
Although some people may think it is humorous, never offer or allow your pets access to alcoholic beverages. Due to Halloween parties there may be alcoholic drinks carelessly left in areas where pets may be able to reach them. Place these unattended drinks in a safe location where pets cannot reach them. If enough alcohol is ingested, the animal could become very ill and weak. In severe cases they may go into a coma, possibly resulting in death due to respiratory failure.
Animals are attracted to unusual or shiny objects which may be found around the house during Halloween used for decorations or wrapping. Dogs and cats cannot see in color so it is the shiny, shimmering or unusual appearance that attracts them. Birds can see in color, so color may definitely be a source of attraction to them. Keep aluminum foil and cellophane candy wrappers away from pets. Pets may swallow such material, leading to gastrointestinal irritation, causing vomiting or may even pass into the intestinal tract producing an intestinal blockage. Cats are quite often attracted to ribbons, bows, strings and other decorations which they may chew, swallow and develop intestinal blockage. In addition, twinkling lights or other interesting electrical decorations may prove attractive to your pets. They may chew on the cords which may lead to severe electrical shocks.
Keep the decorations out of the reach of your pets to avoid potential danger. If you notice that your pet is very interested in the decorations and may be chewing on them, be certain to relocate the objects in a safe place where you pet cannot get to them.
Exercise caution with lit candles around pets, which could easily become a fire hazard if knocked over by a wagging tail, a curious or frightened cat. This includes the candle placed inside the carved pumpkin, as the pumpkin could be toppled and the candle inside become a fire risk.
During Halloween decorative plants, such as pumpkins or decorative foods, such as corn and gourds are placed around the home to provide a festive holiday setting. These plants and foods though considered to be relatively non-toxic, can potentially cause gastrointestinal upset and may even result in intestinal blockage if large pieces are ingested.
Liquid potpourri, commonly used to add pleasant scent to the home during certain holidays, can be hazardous to pets. Potentially severe damage to the mouth, skin and eyes could result from exposure to both heated and cool liquid products. Birds are especially sensitive to fumes or airborne toxins and caution must be exercised whenever you are using materials that produce fumes or odors. Use them in areas with good ventilation and keep your birds away from them. If you notice your bird is in respiratory distress, move the bird into an area away from the fumes, get good clean air flow in the area and seek veterinary assistance. Airborne toxins can be fatal to birds.
If you suspect your pet may have become exposed to a potentially toxic product or substance, contact your local veterinarian, a veterinary emergency clinic (if it is after hours for your regular veterinarian) or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately for assistance.
It has been quite the trend to dress pets up in costumes for Halloween. Although it can be quite entertaining to see pets in costumes, potential dangers do exist so precautions should be taken. Make sure that when the pet is dressed in a costume there is no interference with breathing, and the ability to see, hear, or move. In addition, if you plan to take your pet out trick or treating with you/your family, especially when it is becoming dark, it would be a good idea to have reflective collars or other reflective materials to ease visibility. (This goes for you and the kids as well)
Referenced from an informational flyer provided by the Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Urbana, IL and the CVMA.