Halloween Pet Safety: Health Hazards

By: Pamela Wilson, LVT, MEd, MCHES

TVMA Member
Austin, TX

Published October 2014

With the arrival of the candy-laden and trickster-oriented holiday of Halloween, there are some risks and health hazards that are of concern for animals, particularly pets like dogs and cats. To avoid unfortunate mishaps and tragedies, keep in mind the following tips.

Trick-or-treating and Tracking

With the excitement of strangers ringing doorbells in hopes of receiving a treat, pets can become nervous and might escape from the safety of their homes. Loud or unfamiliar noises created by pranksters or partygoers also can be unsettling for pets and may cause them to try to escape the vicinity and put their safety at risk. Be sure that your pet is wearing a collar with an identification tag on it for easy tracing. Another good tracking device is an identification microchip. Check with your veterinarian or local animal shelter to learn how to get your pet microchipped. To be safe, keep pets confined in a part of the house separate from a Halloween party or trick-or-treat activities.

It’s not advisable to take pets along for trick-or-treating. If you opt to do so, the pet should be well-trained and kept on a leash under the control of an adult. Add reflective collars and tags or a leash with flashing lights to increase visibility at night.

Halloween Hustle & Bustle

Being in the midst of the hustle and bustle of holiday activities could provoke even mild-mannered animals to bite. Keep your pets out of situations that could be stress-provoking for them. Even if your city or county does not have a leash law, Halloween is a good time to keep your outdoor dogs confined safely and comfortably in the backyard to prevent any mishaps or accidents when costumed strangers approach for tricks or treats. As with any time of the year, make sure that your pet is up-to-date on its rabies vaccination to comply with Texas law.

Good for You, Toxic to Your Pet

A popular treat kept on hand for trick-or-treaters or brought back to the house after a successful Halloween outing is chocolate. Ingestion of chocolate can produce toxicity in animals. Dogs in particular are attracted to the sweet treats. The extent of toxicity an animal exhibits after consuming chocolate is based on a variety of factors, such as the type of chocolate ingested, the size of the animal or an animal’s individual sensitivity to chocolate. Baker’s or baking chocolate contains a higher concentration of stimulant (theobromine) than either semi-sweet or regular milk chocolate. Some typical clinical signs of chocolate toxicity include excessive excitability, restlessness, increased heart rate, muscle tremors and seizures, walking abnormally, increased thirst, increased urination, vomiting and diarrhea. It’s possible that the last two clinical signs are indicative of gastrointestinal upset due to chocolate consumption but not necessarily extensive toxicity. Severe reactions may result in coma.

If an animal has consumed chocolate, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately to determine what actions might need to be taken. Vomiting may be induced within two hours of the chocolate consumption depending on the amount ingested and other factors. There is no specific antidote for chocolate toxicity, but supportive treatment can be administered.

Another dangerous substance associated with sweet treats is xylitol. Xylitol is among a group of sugar substitutes classifieds as sugar alcohols (somewhat a misnomer as they are not alcoholic). It might be found in some “sugar-free,” “reduced sugar” or “diet” foods such as gum, candy, baked goods, ice cream and peanut butter. Look for the term “xylitol” or the general term “sugar alcohol” on food labels when checking for ingredients. In dogs, even a small dose of xylitol can cause toxic effects; it can also be fatal. If a dog consumes xylitol, it can cause hypoglycemia (sudden decrease in blood glucose) and/or liver failure. If you suspect that your dog has eaten a product containing xylitol, you should take it to a veterinarian immediately, as signs of toxicity can start within 30 minutes of ingestion (signs could also be delayed for a few days). Some of the clinical signs of xylitol toxicity in dogs include weakness, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, seizures, anemia, increased thirst, increased urination and bloody or tarry feces. There have been some indications that ferrets may react to xylitol in the same way that dogs do. Cat may also exhibit some of these clinical signs if they ingest xylitol. However, xylitol poisoning in cats appears to be rare, possibly because they may metabolize it differently or are not as interested in eating food products that contain this substance.

Glow Jewelry: Another Toxicity

When trick-or-treaters start making their rounds, jewelry that glows in the dark is popular to wear as a safety feature because it can help make a person more visible. It can also be a popular attractant as a play item for cats. Glow jewelry contains a chemical called dibutyl phthalate. Although this chemical may have the potential to cause death via respiratoryRelating to the system facilitating intake and exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between an organism and the environment. paralysis, cats generally will only ingest a minimal amount due to its unpleasant taste and the fact that only a small amount of the chemical is present in the jewelry. Cats that have bitten into the jewelry may exhibit heavy salivation, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior, but they typically recover within minutes. Immediately after a cat happens to ingest this chemical, it helps to feed it small quantities of milk, canned food or tuna juice to dilute the chemical in its mouth. Wash off any drops of the chemical that might be on the cat’s coat and flush the cat’s eyes with water if there has been ocular exposure. There is no known antidote for dibutyl phthalate. Cats that have ingested large quantities should be closely monitored and given supportive treatment if warranted.

If you know or suspect that an animal has ingested anything that could possibly produce toxicity, immediately consult a veterinarian, animal emergency clinic or poison control center. The Texas Poison Center Network can be reached at 800/222-1222. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 800/548-2423.

Protect Your Pet

Halloween is a holiday that tends to bring out the mischievous nature of people, sometimes to the point of becoming malicious. Animals can become the unfortunate targets of malevolent acts so be sure to keep them in comfortable, safe and secured locations. Cats tend to be more at risk so keep them inside. Black cats (due to the folklore associating them with bad luck, witchcraft and Halloween), calicos and tortoiseshells (due to their Halloween colors) may have more of a chance of being targeted.

With the fall, temperatures begin to drop, and cold winds start to blow. The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Animal Welfare Act recommends that the ambient temperature should not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for your outdoor pet, especially if they are young, sick or seniors. If it does, plan to supplement the animal’s environment with auxiliary heating and additional bedding. Additionally, animals should always be provided with adequate protection and shelter from the direct effect of wind, rain or snow. Remember that animals in Texas are not acclimated to cold weather so they must be protected from extreme weather conditions accordingly. Allowing pets indoors is a great way to protect them from harsh weather.

Food and Drug Administration. Paws off xylitol; it’s dangerous for dogs: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/paws-xylitol-its-dangerous-dogs

Gwaltney-Brant SM. Chocolate. Merck Manual Veterinary Manual: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/chocolate.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes:

Rosendale, ME. Glow jewelry (dibutyl phthalate) ingestion in cats: http://www.aspcapro.org/sites/pro/files/q-toxbrief_0899.pdf or Veterinary Medicine 1999;August:703.

Wilson PJ. Puppy Pal Pointers: From the True Tails of Ripple and Jessie. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2004.

Wilson PJ. 8 tips to keep your pet safe from winter and holiday hazards. Elsevier Connect. 2015; December. https://www.elsevier.com/connect/8-tips-to-keep-your-pet-safe-from-winter-and-holiday-hazards.

Updated November 18, 2019

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