Pet Talk: Keep your pets safe on Halloween
Ghosts and goblins, witches and vampires. Amidst all the excitement and preparation for Halloween, it’s easy to forget that, although most of us enjoy the occasional scare or two in jest, our pets may experience some truly terrifying moments without the proper precautions. Not only can many of the candies handed out on Halloween be toxic to our furry family members, but the delighted laughter, yells of “trick-or-treat!” and the unusual or scary appearances of strangers appearing on the front porch can all be very frightening to our pets.
With chocolate being a common culprit in the Halloween candy supply, it is important to be aware of the effects it can have on your animal if ingested. Chocolate contains substances called methylxanthines, including theobromine and caffeine, which when consumed in large amounts can cause increased thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating in pets, and if not treated, can progress to high heart rate, irregular heartbeats, high respiratory rate, tremors, seizures, and even death.
Symptoms typically start to occur within 6-12 hours of ingestion, and if you see your animal consume candy that contains chocolate, you should contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately. It is important to try to confirm what type of chocolate was eaten, because different types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine and caffeine (white chocolate has the least amount of methylxanthines and dark baking chocolate has the most). Based on your veterinarian’s recommendations for your pet, treatments such as eliciting vomiting, fluid supplementation in the hospital, gastric lavage, and medications to control seizures or heart arrhythmias may be needed.
Another common treat handed out during Halloween is gum. Some types of gum and other candies (usually the sugar-free kind) contain an ingredient called xylitol, which in animals stimulates a potent release of insulin from the pancreas (xylitol does not cause this effect in humans). This causes a severe drop in blood sugar levels as well as potassium levels within 10-60 minutes of consumption and can cause weakness, lack of coordination, lethargy, seizures, liver failure, and death if left untreated.
The amount that is toxic to your pet depends on the amount consumed and the pet’s weight, and contacting your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as soon as possible is of utmost importance. Your veterinarian will likely need to perform bloodwork to monitor blood sugar and potassium levels, and may need to keep your pet in the hospital to induce vomiting, administer fluids, liver protectants, and give other supportive care treatments.
Finally, the constant knocks on the door or ringing of the doorbell can cause a severe increase in anxiety in many pets. In some cases, this can be similar to the anxiety seen during thunderstorms or during fireworks on the Fourth of July.
If you think your pet might become anxious or afraid of the constant noise and stream of new people coming up to the door, giving them a comfortable area of the house with familiar toys, beds, blankets, etc. where they can feel safe may be very effective in keeping your pet calm during this time. Keeping animals away from the continuously opening and closing door that will help prevent scared pets from making a run for it, and escaping into the night. If you know your pet has severe anxiety issues, you can also talk to your veterinarian about calming supplements or anti-anxiety medications to help keep your pet happy and safe during Halloween festivities.
Keeping your human children and your furry children safe on Halloween is an important undertaking. By following steps such as keeping candy out of reach of those curious animal noses, keeping a close eye on the whereabouts and temperament of your pets, and having open conversations with your veterinarian for advice on behavior and safety (or in the unfortunate event of accidental candy consumption), you and all the members of your family can stay safe, happy, and healthy this Halloween.
Madeline Wheeler is a veterinarian at Mountain Animal Hospital Center and Mobile Veterinarian in Eagle.
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