Halloween Horrors for Your Pet

Halloween is just around the corner! And for most pet owners, the scariest thing that could happen is having a very sick pet on their hands. Because Halloween goodies frequently contain ingredients that are toxic to pets, you should educate yourself about the potential dangers this spooky season can hold, as well as the steps to take in case of accidental ingestion. So let’s dive in!

Chocolate

Scenario:
Late night, Halloween. Scrappy’s quietly found his way into your kid’s Halloween haul, and by the time you find him, it’s unclear how much he’s consumed. What you do know is that a lot of chocolate is now missing, and Scrappy looks pretty pleased with himself.

The danger:
Cocoa beans contain methylxanthines (specifically, theobromine and caffeine), which are fine for people but toxic for pets. Methylxanthines can cause severely elevated heart rate, upset stomach, and/or central nervous system stimulation, which manifests in the form of agitation or hyperactivity. While cats may not go out of their way to eat chocolate or coffee products like dogs do, it is still dangerous for them.

The general rule of thumb: the darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of methylxanthines, and therefore the more dangerous it is. From highest concentration to lowest, here’s the order:

  • Cocoa powder

  • Baker’s or bittersweet chocolate

  • Semisweet chocolate

  • Milk chocolate

The good news is that the typical drug store chocolates, the kind that are most often handed out to kids on Halloween, will generally have a lot less cocoa than higher-quality dark chocolate or baking chocolate. But keep in mind that no amount of chocolate is good for a pet to consume.

What to do:
Contact a veterinary professional immediately. If possible, be ready to communicate how much and what kind of chocolate was consumed. This will help the veterinary team determine the severity and urgency of the situation. (It also will depend on how large your pet is.) If they ate a lot of darker chocolate, you’ll likely need to take them to a veterinary hospital for further evaluation.

Treatment:
You or the vet might have to induce vomiting to remove as much chocolate from your pet’s stomach as you can (this is only possible if ingestion was recent). IV fluids, heart rate monitoring, and, in severe cases, medication will address heart rate and rhythm abnormalities. The prognosis is good as long as your pet receives prompt and thorough care. Clinical signs generally resolve within 12 to 72 hours.

Grapes and Raisins

Scenario:
Meatloaf, a young French Bulldog, has gotten into a stash of chocolate-covered raisins. He seems to have gobbled down about half of a 20-oz. box, about 1 or 2 hours ago.

The danger:
Unfortunately, both the raisins and the chocolate are dangerous. We don’t know exactly what makes raisins and grapes so toxic for dogs and cats, but we do know that the amount consumed doesn’t matter: even eating a single grape has been associated with acute kidney injury (AKI). Pets may experience vomiting, lethargy, or inappetence as a result.

What to do:
Take your pet to the vet or a veterinary emergency center immediately! The vet will likely induce vomiting and then recommend further treatment options.

Treatment:
The gold-standard treatment involves in-hospital care combined with aggressive IV fluid therapy, in order to “flush” the kidneys and prevent the binding of toxic components. Sequential kidney value blood work will be checked to ensure the kidneys are not showing signs of damage.

Acute kidney injury can occur up to 72 hours after ingestion, meaning hospitalization is often recommended for around 3 days. The prognosis is typically good with appropriate treatment and monitoring, but it depends on your pet’s individual case. (Researchers continue to investigate why grapes and raisins are toxic to pets.)

Because Halloween goodies frequently contain ingredients that are toxic to pets, you should educate yourself about the potential dangers this spooky season can hold, as well as the steps to take in case of accidental ingestion.

Xylitol

Scenario:
Bailey, a Golden Retriever, was caught red-pawed, digging through the trick-or-treat bucket. Fortunately, she avoided the chocolate but did get into some chewing gum. You check the packaging, which says: “CONTAINS XYLITOL.”

The danger:
What is xylitol? It’s a sugar alcohol found in many sugar-free products. It’s safe for people, but extremely toxic for dogs. (Cats, on the other hand, are not affected by xylitol like dogs are.) Xylitol hurts dogs in two main ways:

  • Liver damage.

  • Severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Sugar levels can fall so low, in fact, that life-threatening seizures can occur.

What to do:
Bring your dog to a veterinarian immediately! If possible, find out how much gum was consumed. Your vet will likely recommend hospitalization.

Treatment:
After hospitalization, your dog will receive IV fluid support, blood glucose and liver value monitoring, and overall supportive care. Some dogs will need IV glucose to keep their blood sugar at adequate levels until the effects of the xylitol wear off. Expect 2 to 3 days of hospitalization for your pet. The prognosis is typically good with appropriate treatment and monitoring, but ultimately depends on your specific dog and situation.

Fats and Fatty Foods

Scenario:
You’re cooling a beautiful homemade pumpkin cheesecake on the kitchen counter. You turn your back for one second too long, and Jake, your yellow Lab, wolfs down the entire cheesecake. He seems to be perfectly fine (if a little guilty!) for the rest of the day. But late that night, Jake vomits a few times. When you offer him a treat, he isn’t interested. He’s lying in a bunch of different positions and trying to hide.

The danger:
Introducing a large amount of fat, especially very suddenly, into a pet’s system can cause big problems. First of all, there’s stomach upset to contend with, whether that’s vomiting or diarrhea, ranging from mild to severe. There’s also the possibility of pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas.

The pancreas is an important organ that secretes digestive enzymes and produces insulin. When the pancreas is “overstimulated,” those enzymes can start to harm the organ itself and cause inflammation. In acute situations, pancreatitis can range from mild to severe.

What to do:
Contact a veterinary professional. Guided by your pet’s clinical signs and specific situation, the vet may recommend home care or instruct you to bring your pet in for further treatment.

Treatment:
Treatment will vary based on the severity of the situation. Simple cases of vomiting and diarrhea can often be treated at home with medication to help calm the intestines down. More severe cases of stomach upset or pancreatitis may involve hospitalization for supportive care.

There is no specific treatment or antidote for pancreatitis. Some animals require aggressive in-hospital care for advanced cases, including IV fluids, anti-nausea medication, and/or pain relief and antibiotics. You should take pancreatitis very seriously: it can progress and become a life-threatening illness in some cases.

Keep Your Pet Safe

The important thing is to be educated, prepared, and aware, so that if a disaster does strike, you’ll know exactly how to handle it. This article was specifically about Halloween-related dangers, but you can check out our other article about common household dangers for pets to learn about other toxic foods and products. And remember, whatever the time of year, if your pet has ingested something you’re not sure about, don’t hesitate to contact the Small Door Veterinary team. We’re here to help.

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