By Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM

Fall is in the air and Halloween is upon us. While Halloween can be fun for children, it can be a very dangerous time for pets who have a much higher risk for ingestion of candy and Halloween décor at this time of year!

One of the most dangerous candies, which are most accessible to pets at Halloween, is chocolate. Dogs inherently love the smell and taste of chocolate and are quick to snatch a piece from the unknowing caregiver! And according to Pet Poison Hotlines, chocolate poisonings go up drastically at Halloween time, with 98 percent of those incidents in dogs.

Chocolate contains methylxanthines, toxic chemicals similar to caffeine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and increased thirst when ingested at low levels, and increased heart rates and even seizures at high levels.

If you think your pet has ingested chocolate, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately to obtain the best advice based on the time, the amount and the type of chocolate ingested.

The type of chocolate is important for your vet to know in order to assess the potential for toxicity. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it becomes, whereas white chocolate has little or no side effects.

Toxic levels for pets are:

.7 oz per pound of body weight for milk chocolate

.3 oz per pound of body weight for semi-sweet chocolate

.1 oz per pound of body weight for baker’s chocolate

A second, not commonly thought of, dangerous treat at Halloween is raisins and grapes. While many homes distribute “healthy treats” to children, pets may gravitate to these tasty treats as well. Unfortunately, grapes and raisins can cause severe kidney toxicity, leading to kidney failure, at even the lowest levels, so taking care to keep these in sealed containers to reduce potential for pet exposure is critical!

The symptoms of grape and raisin toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, abdominal pain and kidney failure.

If you think your pet may have ingested grapes or raisins, again call your veterinarian immediately to avoid the life threatening consequences.

Thirdly, candy wrappers, which are highly prevalent at Halloween, can be very dangerous for dogs. They love to ingest these candy coated delicacies, but then they are prone to intestinal obstructions and Ileus, which is lack of movement in the bowels leading to obstructions and potential death.

Signs to watch for with candy wrapper ingestion include vomiting, decreased appetite, not defecating or straining to defecate.  In the more severe cases, surgical intervention may be required.

Finally, glow sticks, which are not commonly thought of as a potential danger for pets, can be irritating to both dogs and cats. While exposure through chewing on them is not life threatening, pets can develop painful irritations in the mouth, leading to profuse drooling and discomfort.

So this Halloween, be informed and prepared! Keep candy, wrappers and glow sticks out of your pets’ reach. Caution your children not to drop grapes or raisins on the floor and keep them in sealed containers.  Keep your emergency veterinarian’s phone number handy, as well as local pet poison hotlines! Most of all, be SAFE and have FUN!

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is a graduate of Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and owns Mountain Mobile Veterinary Service in Eagle and Vail, Colorado, where she cares for small and large animals. She’s also a 1983 graduate of Ellicottville Central School and a frequent visitor to Ellicottville where her parents still live and her father Dana and brothers Greg and Dan own and run Fitzpatrick and Weller. She provides this column as a public service to pet owners in our area.