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Dog with Halloween sign

Halloween treats are tricky for pets

Q: Clyde, our retriever mix, sometimes is successful at stealing snacks from our young children’s hands. I’m worried he’ll do the same with Halloween treats. I know chocolate is toxic, but is there anything else I need to watch for?

A: The top four Halloween trick-or-treat hazards for dogs are chocolate, the artificial sweetener xylitol, licorice and non-food items such as candy wrappers, lollipop sticks and small plastic toys and containers.

Chocolate tastes yummy to children—and canines, too—but it’s bad for our dogs. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which dogs metabolize more slowly than humans. So these chemicals build up to excessive levels in their blood, and the elevated levels last longer. In dogs, chocolate can cause restlessness, muscle tremors, vomiting, diarrhea and a rapid, abnormal heart rhythm. Higher “doses” of chocolate can cause loss of coordination, seizures and even death.

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free chewing gums and candies. As little as one stick of gum contains 1 to 2 grams of xylitol, enough to sicken a 20-pound dog and kill a 10-pound dog. In dogs, this sugar substitute releases insulin, which decreases blood sugar enough to cause loss of coordination, seizures and death. In addition, xylitol causes liver failure in dogs.

Licorice alters the blood levels of potassium and sodium, which may cause irregular heart rhythm and elevated blood pressure.

Finally, prevent Clyde from eating candy wrappers, lollipop sticks, corncobs and other non-digestible items. If they get stuck in his stomach or intestines, he’ll lose his energy and appetite or start vomiting—your signal that the treat was a trick that will mean a trip to the veterinarian.

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Q: On Halloween, our house will be full of partying teenagers, and we’ll be opening the door to give candy to young treat-or-treaters. I am worried that the costumes and party noise will frighten our cats, Frick and Frack, and that they might escape when the front door is open. How can we keep them safe on Halloween?

A: Before the party begins, confine Frick and Frack to the quietest place in your home. Whether it’s a bedroom or the basement, dim the lights, turn on soft music, and plug in a Feliway diffuser to fill the room with its calming pheromone.

Provide food, water and a litter box. If you are certain they won’t escape when you open their door, visit them during the party to comfort them.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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