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Halloween is just around the corner—and as surely as fairies, witches and ghosts will scramble up to front doors, at least a handful of pups will arrive at my ER to be treated for a variety of frightening follies. In an effort to take some of the scare out of your holiday, keep an eye out for these typical trick-or-treat night dangers.
Chocolate, especially dark or baking chocolate, can be very dangerous. The compounds in chocolate that cause toxicity are caffeine and theobromine. The rule of thumb with chocolate is: The darker it is, the more dangerous it is. Depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested, the symptoms can range from vomiting, increased thirst, belly discomfort and restlessness to severe agitation, muscle tremors, irregular heart rhythm, high body temperature, seizures and death.
Call your veterinarian or local animal emergency if your pet has ingested any chocolate; calculations can be made, based on your pet’s body weight, to determine if it nears a toxic dose that requires treatment.
Candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems, and even small amounts of it can be highly toxic to your dog. Xylitol is a non-caloric sweetener that is widely used in sugar-free gum, as well as in sugar-free baked products. In people, xylitol does not affect blood sugar levels, but in dogs, ingestion can lead to a rapid and severe drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia).
The hypoglycemic dose for dogs is considered to be approximately 0.1 grams per kilogram of body weight. A typical stick of gum contains 0.3 to 0.4 grams of xylitol, which means that a 10-pound dog could be poisoned by as little as a stick and a half of gum! Dogs may develop disorientation and seizures within 30 minutes of ingesting xylitol-containing products, or signs may be delayed for several hours.
Some dogs who ingest large amounts of xylitol develop liver failure, which can be fatal. The dose to cause liver failure is 1 gram per kilogram of body weight, which is about ten times more than the dose for low blood sugar. A 10-pound dog could go into liver failure if he found and ingested an unopened package of gum, and sadly, this is not such an uncommon occurrence. Any dog who has ingested a xylitol-containing product should be examined by a veterinarian immediately!
Decorative pumpkins and corn
Decorative pumpkins are considered to be relatively nontoxic, but they can produce stomach upset in pets who nibble on them. Decorative corn is of a higher concern as the cobs can pose a risk for obstruction in the intestines if ingested. Luckily, corncob pieces can be seen on radiographs, making the diagnosis of an accidental ingestion relatively easy.
Even though our dogs can look smashing in a pumpkin or pirate costume, many pets can have adverse reactions to a constrictive outfit or its irritating materials.
If your pet is a real ham and loves to partake in the festivities, make sure the costume isn't annoying or unsafe by scheduling a dress rehearsal well before the big night. Take a close look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that they could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects, or your pet, leading to injury. It should not constrict your dog’s movement or hearing, or impede its ability to breathe or bark.
Does your pet have sensitive skin? Even those with hearty coats can have allergic reactions to the synthetic materials found in many costumes. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows any abnormal behavior, consider letting them go au naturale in his or her birthday suit or donning a festive bandana.
During trick-or-treating hours, it is best to keep pets in a room away from all the excitement at the front door during peak hours, as too many strangers can be scary and stressful for pets. When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your pup doesn’t dart outside.
Always make sure your dog has proper identification. If your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned to you. Please ensure that your pet’s microchip truly has been registered, and just as important, that your address and phone numbers are current!
Sadly, many animals that have been microchipped are not actually registered in the system and we are sometimes unable to reunite families. If you are in question as to whether your pet’s microchip is active and properly registered, you can see your veterinarian or stop by PETS Referral Center  if you’re in the Berkeley area to have your pet scanned at no cost—we are open 24/7 365 days a year.
Keeping pets safe on Halloween shouldn’t be a scary endeavor, and I hope this blog has helped prepare you for the upcoming Halloween night! Boo!