Halloween Tips and Chocolate Toxicity Prevention

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By Dr. Deborah Wolf

Everyone loves a good scary Halloween night, but our furry friends may feel differently about this. Think about all the costumes coming to the door, the constant ringing of the bell, the opening and closing of the front door with shoutsand laughter from the kids. Though this sounds like a perfect party, fearful pets can run outside to escape the stress. Even the toughest pets may find these spooky activities too much. It is our job to keep our pets' health, emotional needs, and safety in check while we celebrate and eat lots of chocolate. Stress can lead to illness. Stress related diarrhea is common and we all want to avoid the discomfort and clean-up that comes with this monster of a mess.

Costumes (yours and theirs)

• Nothing is cuter than cat in a shark costume, but is it comfortable? Can your pet move normally in that hot-dog outfit? Make sure things are not too tight, nor too loose. • If the elastics are too tight, it can cause an area to swell and cause pain, or some fur could inadvertently be pulled on.
• Too loose a costume will be a tripping hazard, for you and for your pet.
• Avoid any chemicals or paint; neither should be used directly on the animal. • Do you have a chewer? Enough said. • If your pet's costume involves a mask, make sure your pet can actually see the spooks in the corners.

Also consider the sight of having your own face altered by a mask. Animals CAN recognize your face and your voice. If the two no longer match, your pet may not appreciate this type of haunt.

Taking your dog Trick-or-Treating?

Consider using reflective gear and avoid those retractable leashes. The air is full of excitement and fake fog. Remember your dog's state of mind when you creep up to those haunted houses. Does your pooch think you need to be protected? Is there a bite risk?

Jack-o'-lanterns and Candles

Halloween would not be complete without Jack-o'-lanterns and creepy candles, but they are a potential fire hazard whether you have pets or not. Dogs and cats are nosey and those whiskers will go up in flames in a flash.

Chocolate Toxicity

Dog owners know that chocolate is bad for dogs, but did you know that candy can cause GI problems; especially pancreatitis? The active ingredient in chocolate that causes toxicity in dogs is called theobromine. It is a stimulant, much like caffeine. So if your dog gets into the loot brought home by the kids, here are some things that will alert you to a problem:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (usually later, in the middle of the night)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Twitching
  • Nervousness/restlessness
  • Panting
  • Seizures in severe cases

So, is my chocolate full of theobromine? It's not Baker's chocolate.

  • Chocolate liquor is the liquid that comes from squashing cacao beans.
  • Cocoa butter is the fat that is extracted from the chocolate liquor.
  • Baker's chocolate is basically pure chocolate liquor containing 50% to 60% cocoa butter and 390 mg/ounce of theobromine.
  • Dark/Semisweet chocolate is 35% chocolate and it contains 150 mg/ounce of Theobromine.
  • Milk chocolate is at least 10% chocolate liquor and it contains 44 mg /ounce of theobromine
  • White chocolate contains very little theobromine, but it does contain plenty of fat, which can cause problems.
  • It can take 4 full days for the effects of theobromine to leave a dog's system.

What's the deal with Pancreatitis?

Even if the sweets do not contain theobromine, they contain fat. A sudden high fat meal is usually the culprit in causing acute pancreatitis. Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort are just the beginning of this painful illness.

What to Do

A small amount of milk chocolate, like the amount found in a few chocolate chips may not be an issue, but you need to call a veterinarian and find out if what your pet ingested is toxic or not. Remember that the darker the chocolate; the more pure it is, the more toxic it will be.

Animal poison control (fees apply) can be reached at: (888) 426-4435.