Growing up as a pet novice, I gleaned certain facts about dogs from babysitters, classmates, and television. I got the basics down:
- Dogs sometimes pee on the carpet, but people just "clean" it up and forget about the gross stuff in their carpet (at my babysitter's house).
- Dogs sometimes sniff you in uncomfortable ways (friend's house).
- Dogs can't eat chocolate (Gilmore Girls, and every nineties sitcom in the world).
You may not be able to control where dogs take care of their business. And you probably can't control where and when they get all up in your business. But you definitely can and should control their contact with chocolate. With Halloween on the horizon, it's the perfect time to review some pet safety tips for this favorite human treat and other common dangers.
We got advice from experts about the top hazards, how to keep your house safe for canines, and what to do if something bad happens this Halloween.
What foods are hazardous to dogs?
Unsafe in any quantity
Unsafe in larger quantities
— more than 10 grams
Not a health threat in a small quantity
— less than 10 grams
Richter adds that the artificial sweetener xylitol, raisins, and dark chocolate are the top three worst treats for your dog to eat.
While anything containing milk chocolate is bad, a small dog eating a large quantity can be especially bad. "Also," Richter says, "the sugar, fat, etc can lead to GI upset." Additionally, "With all of the non-chocolate sugary stuff, there is a potential for GI upset, but not much else."
Let's explore a little more about these hazardous foods.
Xylitol, an artificial sweetener
|"Pet owners should also keep treats containing the sugar substitute xylitol away from their pets," advises Dr. Sarah Nold, staff veterinarian at Trupanian, a pet insurance company. "Xylitol causes very low blood sugar that can result in weakness, collapse, and seizures."|
Grapes and raisins
Dr. Rachel Barrack is a licensed veterinarian with additional certifications in both veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbology. She warns that if a dog gets into a bag of grapes or raisins, "the situation can turn dire, and these items can cause kidney failure in dogs."
She also adds that the candy Raisinettes should be included in this warning.
"Chocolate toxicity is a real danger to dogs," says Dr. Barrack.
"Chocolate contains methylxanthines (such as caffeine and theobromine)," she explains. "Dogs are much more sensitive to these than people are. Methylxanthines are found in all chocolates
to varying degrees. White chocolate contains less than milk chocolate, while milk contains less than dark or semi-sweet chocolate. Thus dark and semi-sweet chocolate have the greatest probability of being harmful to your dog."
Dr. Nold warns that "chocolate is more dangerous for a smaller dog because they don’t have to ingest as much as a larger dog to cause toxicity."
"Signs of chocolate toxicity may include gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and/or diarrhea, increased heart and respiratory rates, increased temperature, decreased blood pressure, muscle rigidity, and even seizures, cardiac failure, and coma," adds Dr. Barrack.
Other Halloween and holiday foods to avoid
|"Chocolate isn’t the only type of candy that poses a danger to dogs around Halloween," says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. "Anything new or unusual can lead to vomiting or diarrhea, and foods with a high fat content may lead to pancreatitis, a potentially fatal disease. Never leave any sort of potentially dangerous food out where your dog can access it."|
Here are a few of the other dangers to be aware of:
"Keep pumpkin and halloween decorations out of your pet’s reach," suggests Dr. Barrack. "Consumption can cause gastrointestinal upset and even intestinal obstruction."
Rich holiday foods
"Halloween and Thanksgiving are often a time to indulge in rich, fattening foods, but it is best not to share these with your pets and instead keep them on their usual diets," shares Dr. Barrack. "These rich foods can result in pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas that is manifested by vomiting and diarrhea."
Dr. Nold adds, "High-sugar candies can also drive digestive upset in dogs, even if they do not contain chocolate."
"While dogs might enjoy a nice big bone to chew on, cooked meat bones can actually splinter and cause blockage or lacerations in the gastrointestinal tract, says Dr. Barrack.
Food packaging can also be a danger to your four-legged friends. "Dogs that eat candy packaging, wrappers, lollipop sticks, etc. are also at risk for developing a gastrointestinal blockage that may require surgery to correct," says Dr. Coates.
A costly mistake
When your dog ingests one of the substances above, it can cause a lot of pain. It can also cost a lot in veterinary bills.
Dr. Nold shares, "In severe cases, Trupanion has paid claims for toxicity treatment in the $7,000 to $8,000 range. However, the average costs of common Halloween toxicity claims pet owners could experience are $500 (chocolate), $650 (raisin), and $725 (xylitol)."
“If you think your dog or cat has ingested Halloween candy, immediately contact your veterinarian.” cautions Dr. Nold.
How to keep your pet safe
In my house, I like to refer to the time between Halloween and New Years as "Candy Season." Here are a few suggestions to help people keep their doggos safe this week and throughout the sweet season.
1. Keep candy high
"Prevent your dog from chowing down on chocolate by keeping your child’s Halloween candy up high. Do not go through the candy on the floor so that you won’t accidentally leave any behind. My Pomeranian once got into my mother-in-law’s chocolate bar that was kept in her purse on the floor. It made her very sick and we had to take her to the vet. If you have a larger dog, put the candy on the kitchen counter so that they won’t be able to reach it." — Becky Beach, Furbaby Momma Expert and Blogger, MomBeach.com
"Keep all candy — especially chocolate (it's toxic to dogs!) — far from your dogs reach. That means, never leave your trick-or-treat bag on the floor, coffee table, or on any low surface.
Be careful when dumping candy out of your pumpkin bag — don't let any stray pieces fly on to the floor for your pup to gobble." — Candy Pilar Godoy, blogger at boogiethepug.com.
2. Upgrade your trash cans
"Replace all your open top and swing lid trash cans for ones that have foot pedals! This prevents your pup from getting into the trash and potentially getting ahold of something toxic, like Halloween candy. Personally, my lab loves sticking her nose into the trash in hopes of finessing a meal. Having a trash bin with a foot pedal prohibits her from getting ahold of potentially toxic foods. This is also great if you have dogs that like ripping apart napkins and paper towels." — Jacob Dayan, CEO and cofounder of Finance Pal, Community Tax, and owner of four dogs
3. Educate your family
"Make sure your kids understand the danger of the dog eating their Halloween candy and ensure they put it somewhere the dog can’t get it," — Amy Tokic, Editor-In-Chief of PetGuide.com, and a proud dog mom to an adorable Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross named Oscar.
4. Air-tight containers
"Use an air tight container for candy. Mango may be small, but he is notorious for jumping on the furniture. Having an open bowl of candy sitting on the side table or counter is not going to stop him from attempting to grab a piece. Candy of all type can be dangerous, even lethal for dogs but chocolate is especially dangerous. To make sure he doesn't get into the candy, I put it in a container with flip-down side clips or an air-lock lid. This way I know he'll be safe even if I leave the room." — Tracey, Payless Power
5. Offer alternative treats to lessen excitement
Giving your dog health holiday treats can help to lessen the urge to demolish every piece of candy he sees. Leasa Moltke from Solid Gold Pet suggests some pumpkin treats: "Pumpkin is a great source of soluble fiber which helps support proper digestion for your pup. Solid Gold’s Turkey Bone Broth with Pumpkin and Ginger is a great festive meal topper/treat for dogs of all life stages. Or you can add regular canned pumpkin purée to any kibble (make sure there are no additives)." This form of pumpkin is okay because the amount is controlled its pureed to avoid any ingestion of the shell, stem, or stringy pulp.
Another option is Old Mother Hubbard® Creepy Crunchers dog biscuits. They are festive, tasty and safe for treating this Halloween. These spooktastic mini skeleton bone-shaped biscuits are made with premium, all-natural ingredients like peanut butter, oatmeal, cane molasses, apples, and then are slowly baked in the oven to preserve the natural flavors and add an extra crunch.
6. Be extra cautious
"If you’re a pet parent, you probably already keep your chocolate stash out of reach of your pup. However, the holiday season tends to involve more chocolate treats around the house than usual, so you may need to be doubly cautious this time of year!" — Renaldo Webb, founder of PetPlate.com
What should you do if your dog ingests one of the bad foods?
"That bowlful of candy is for trick-or-treaters, not for Scruffy and Fluffy," says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, from Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic. "Chocolate in all forms can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Tinfoil and cellophane candy wrappers can also be hazardous if swallowed. If you suspect your pet has ingested a potentially dangerous substance, please call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435."