The Horrors of Halloween: The Pet Version

halloween pets

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen. The moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween. – 19th century postcard

Although black cats are one of the spooky creatures connected with Halloween, many cats and dogs may not be as excited about Halloween as their families are. Halloween has become one of America’s premier holidays, and according to the National Retail Foundation, the total spending for the holiday in 2017 is expected to reach $9.1 billion. But have pets fallen under the magical spell of Halloween like their families have? Candy, costumes, witches and wizards can make Halloween downright frightful for pets.

Tricks Not Treats
About one-third of the money spent on Halloween goes towards the purchase of candy. But the trick or treat bags should be off-limits for pets. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine. The amount is lowest in white chocolate and highest in dark chocolate, but any chocolate consumption is risky in pets because chocolate causes vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity. Some health conscious spirits distribute little boxes of raisins as an alternative to candy. But when dogs consume raisins, these healthy little snacks become tricks, not treats, and can damage your dog’s kidneys. If your dog eats sugar-free Halloween treats containing xylitol, expect a hair-raising trip to the animal ER because xylitol can be lethal in dogs.

Keep the candy cauldron out of your pet’s reach to prevent grave consequences.

Creepy Costumes
Most pets rush to the door when the doorbell rings, but the appearance of ghosts, goblins and the Grim Reaper at your door screaming “Trick or Treat” may be your pet’s version of a zombie apocalypse. Keep your pet safely confined and well away from the front door to prevent an accidental escape when unexpected apparitions startle your pet.

Of the 179 million Americans celebrating Halloween, 28 million will purchase a costume for their pet. Not all pets think dressing up is bloody good fun. Hazardous hats and tight tu-tus may turn your pet’s Halloween into a nightmare. Do a costume trial run before the big night to prevent Halloween from becoming a bad dream.

Which Witch is Pet Safe?
To create a haunting aura on Halloween, half of Americans plan to decorate their homes this year, although not all decorations are pet safe. Jack-O-Lanterns add to the eerie atmosphere of Halloween night, but the candle inside can easily set a curious cat or dog’s fur on fire. Use battery operated flickering lights in place of the traditional candles in your carved pumpkin. I love to decorate with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders. If you have cats, I don’t recommend using this scary décor since cats love to eat anything that is stringy. Strings can easily lodge in your cat’s intestine causing a blockage.

All of us at the Animal Medical Center wish you and your pets a safe and fun Howl-oween.

Pet Poisoning in the News

pet poisons

March 19-25 is National Poison Prevention Week, sponsored by the Poisoning Prevention Council. The Council seeks to educate Americans about the risks of unintentional poisoning. I think this week is a good time to remind pet families of potential hazards in the home and to help pet families protect their favorite fur baby against unintentional poisoning.

Xylitol: Not So Sweet for Dogs
The first news of pet poisoning comes from our neighbors to the north, Canada. In Saskatchewan, a handsome German shorthair pointer named Ryker helped himself to 52 pieces of chewing gum. While most think this would simply be a sticky mess, the act was life-threatening. The chewing gum contained xylitol, a substance known to cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. By the time Ryker arrived at the animal ER, he was already having seizures from low blood sugar. With prompt veterinary care, Ryker recovered, but not all dogs are so lucky. Xylitol is safe for humans, but can readily be consumed by your dog since it is an ingredient in many low-calorie products like mints, candies, peanut butter and low carb baked goods.

Pot Poisoning On the Rise
This story did not surprise me one bit since marijuana intoxication is common in AMC’s ER. Ingestion of marijuana plants, compost, trash food containing marijuana, or inhalation of marijuana smoke can affect dogs; they become glassy eyed, uncoordinated, and may be very sleepy. These dogs need intravenous fluids to maintain hydration and warming blankets to maintain their body temperature. Often, dogs intoxicated by marijuana dribble urine. Some dogs become hyperactive. Severely affected dogs may suffer seizures or become comatose requiring ventilator treatment until they regain the ability to breathe. Dogs typically recover in one to three days. Deaths from marijuana intoxication have been reported in dogs consuming concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) butter.

Lamp Poisoning?
The third news story on salt poisoning in cats was news to me. First, I had never heard of a salt lamp, but checked Amazon and found I could scroll through pages of Himalayan salt lamps in various configurations. Second, turns out that cats seem to like to like salt lamps, and since those furry gymnasts can get on your highest bookcase or into your smallest corner, they have the opportunity to lick enough lamp to develop salt poisoning. Ingestion of an excessive amount of salt in both dogs and cats results in clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, lethargy, staggering, abnormal fluid accumulation within the body, excessive thirst or urination, potential injury to the kidneys, tremors, seizures, coma, and even death if salt poisoning is not treatment immediately. Other sources of excessive salt include paintballs, homemade playdough and regular old table salt.

Prevention Accidental Poisonings in Your Pet

  • Read the labels of all food and candy you purchase to protect your dog from unintentional xylitol poisoning.
  • Securely dispose of medical marijuana waste.
  • Don’t expose pets to marijuana smoke.
  • Never use table salt to induce vomiting in your pet.

Is Halloween Scary for Pets?

This adorable puppy is The Animal Medical Center’s 2010 Pet Halloween Costume Contest winner. Although there is nothing scary about Caxton, there are a few things that can make Halloween a scary night for pets and their owners.

I can assure you that the most frightening part of the spooky holiday is not the masks, the creepy music or the fake spiderwebs. The scariest part of Halloween for pets might be what’s inside the trick-or-treat bag or an unplanned escape out the front door.

The Scary Trick-or-Treat Bag
The trick-or-treat bag is scary for dogs, because it will likely contain treats that, if indiscriminately eaten by your dog, will result in a frightful trip to the animal ER, putting a definite damper on your Halloween fun. Chocolate contains a substance similar to caffeine and can make your dog very sick. Little boxes of raisins have also found their way into trick-or-treat bags. While raisins make a great snack for kids, they can damage the kidneys of your dog. Some trick-or-treat bags contain a double whammy – chocolate covered raisins! And, don’t forget to monitor the mints and gum in the trick-or-treat bag as well. Xylitol is often used as a sugar subsitute to protect the teeth of young children, but xylitol is toxic for dogs (and ferrets, too). Keep the treats away from your dog and your dog away from the animal ER.

The Great Escape
With all the commotion at the front door, your dog and cat will also want to be part of the Halloween action. Halloween is not a participation event for the family dog and cat. Escaping between the legs of excited trick-or-treaters is all too easy and dangerous. Play it safe on Halloween. Give your pets a new toy and put them safely in the bedroom, the basement or their crate. Be sure they are wearing their ID collars and double check the microchip registry to be sure your address is up to date, just in case they do slip outside.

So there you have it. It’s not Halloween that is scary to pets; what’s scary to pets are everyday things like chocolate and getting lost without a collar or microchip.

Are you dressing your pet up for Halloween? If you have photos, you can enter The Animal Medical Center’s Pet Halloween Costume Contest on Facebook.

Photo: Courtesy of the AMC

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

The Danger of Xylitol to Your Dog and Ferret

My regular trip to the grocery store this week brought a health risk for dogs and ferrets to the forefront of my mind.

As I was standing in the checkout line, I noticed a number of hard candies and mints with xylitol on the label. Xylitol may help keep us slim and protect our teeth, but it is deadly for our dogs and ferrets. The Animal Medical Center’s Emergency Service has seen several dogs suffering from xylitol-induced illness. The danger is serious enough to have caused the FDA to issue a warning to pet owners because xylitol poisoning is on the rise.

Xylitol is an organic compound and a naturally occurring sugar alcohol used as a low calorie sweetener. Chewing gum and candies are commonly sweetened with xylitol. Recipes abound on the Internet for home baked treats using the sweetner as an ingredient. Medical products such as throat lozenges, cough syrup, children’s multivitamins, toothpaste and mouthwash contain xylitol because it helps prevent tooth decay.

When a dog or ferret consumes xylitol, blood sugar drops dangerously low (hypoglycemia) and can result in seizures. Even if the hypoglycemia is reversed with administration of intravenous sugar (glucose), there is still the potential for development of liver failure and death.

If your dog inadvertently ingests one of the many xylitol-containing foods, medications or any other potentially toxic substance, go to an animal emergency room immediately as the drop in blood sugar occurs very quickly. Take the package, bag or box containing the xylitol product with you. The information on the package will help when your veterinarian contacts one of the animal poison control services included in the links below. These services are open 24 hours a day to advise pet owners and veterinarians on optimal management for pet poisonings.

For more information on other foods toxic to pets, visit:

Fur the Love of Pets: Kitchen Catastrophies

ASPCA: Poison Control

MSPCA Angell Poision Control Hotline

Pet Poison Helpline

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Kitchen Catastrophes

New pet owners often ask their veterinarian, “What is the greatest danger to my pet? Is it the dog park, the sidewalk or being cat-napped?” It may come as a surprise to you, but your kitchen holds some of the greatest dangers for your pet.

Xylitol, a sweetener found in low-calorie foods, induces excessive insulin release in dogs. No one knows why insulin production ramps up in response to xylitol, but the result can be a fatal low blood sugar in your dog. Dogs consuming xylitol may experience vomiting, lethargy, lack of coordination progressing to seizures and liver failure. If your dog eats food containing xylitol, see a veterinarian immediately.

Dogs have a bit of a sweet tooth and often find grapes and raisins tasty. Tasty can turn into tragedy because some dogs develop kidney failure following consumption of even a few grapes or raisins. The toxin has not been identified, but a quick trip to the veterinarian and a short hospital stay can help prevent long-term kidney damage.

Both cats and dogs have red blood cells which can be damaged by ingestion of onions, garlic or garlic powder. Red blood cell damage can result in the need for a blood transfusion, so avoiding these ingredients in your pet’s diet is critical. Typically dogs get into onions by snacking from the trash can. On the other hand, cats may have problems if they are fed human foods flavored with garlic powder.

Birds love human foods too, but bird owners should be cautious about avocados, which can cause respiratory distress and death. Like in dogs and cats, the caffeine-like substance in chocolate can be dangerous for birds. Baking chocolate contains the most of the caffeine-like substance, dark chocolate somewhat less and white chocolate the least. Ingestion of the caffeine-like substance can cause hyperactivity, heart rhythm abnormalities and seizures. Too much salt is bad for all of us including birds, so it is best to keep the salty snacks on your plate rather than your bird’s.

The AMC recommends you check with your veterinarian before feeding your pets any human food. Keep these foods out of your pet’s reach and ensure that your garbage is not easily accessible by them as well. If your pet has ingested any foods that may be toxic you should contact your veterinarian immediately or call Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435, 24 hours a day.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.