The leaves are falling and the pumpkins are reaching their proper jack ‘o lantern size. Soon children everywhere will be dining on a steady diet of Halloween candy while many of us adults relive our youth by taking full advantage of the one day every year we can pretend to be someone (or something) else. Though many dogs also enjoy the excitement that Halloween brings, this time of year can present additional hazards and stressors for our canine friends.
Alcohol and Junk Food
Although Halloween parties in 2020 are likely to be much different than in years past, our opportunistic dogs are still likely to find themselves around more potentially dangerous food and drink than is typical in their daily lives. A cocktail placed at dog height or a single plate of carelessly placed food have been known to ruin more than one celebratory day.
Alcoholic beverages are a particular concern for dogs during holidays and celebrations. Dogs under the influence of alcohol tend to suffer the same consequences as their overindulgent human counterparts including drowsiness, vomiting, lack of coordination, and slow reflexes. Dogs consuming toxic levels of alcohol may experience depression, breathing and heart rate abnormalities, collapse, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, increased total body acid levels, coma, and death. Hospitalization for IV fluids, monitoring, and symptomatic therapies are strongly indicated for intoxicated dogs
Alcohol is not the only holiday-related concern for our dogs, however. Though several common human foods are directly toxic to dogs, other foods that would generally be considered benign may play a role in triggering a relatively common and potentially lethal condition known as acute pancreatitis in dogs. Though the underlying causes of pancreatitis are not well understood, the condition occurs when the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas become activated prematurely and begin digesting the pancreas itself. One common contributing factor for pancreatitis in dogs is recent consumption of high fat or greasy foods. Severe cases of pancreatitis result in abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, inflamed abdominal organs, and sometimes, death. Unfortunately, treatments are limited to providing supportive care, rehydrating the animal through IV fluid therapy, controlling pain, and a tincture of time. Therefore, preventing access to fatty human foods is the best medicine.
Though some dogs would never consider any form of candy edible, many dogs lack the willpower to turn down any potential food source. Consumption of one favorite Halloween treat, chocolate, is known to have harmful effects in dogs due to the presence of naturally occurring chemicals known as methylxanthines. Two specific methylxanthine chemicals, caffeine and theobromine, present potentially lethal toxicity risks to dogs if consumed in a high enough dose. In general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater the concentration of theobromine and caffeine. Therefore, dogs consuming bitter baking chocolate or cocoa powder are at particularly high risk. Milk chocolate tends to be less toxic for dogs, but can still present significant concerns if eaten in large enough quantities or when eaten by small dogs. Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, high blood pressure and heart rate, heart arrhythmias, tremors, seizures and death. If prior to 2 hours after consumption, veterinarians will often make the dog vomit and give repeated doses of oral activated charcoal to trap toxins in the GI tract and prevent them from being absorbed. IV fluids, heart rate monitoring, and symptomatic therapy to stop seizures or heart arrhythmias may be indicated.
Food Hazard Prevention and Poison Control
Try as we might to prevent them, dogs are great at getting to things they would be better off to avoid. Making sure to remind others not to leave drinks or food at dog level is helpful. However, if you have little humans or a notorious canine counter surfer, it may be better to keep your dog isolated in a spare room or a crate until your guests and ghouls have finished their dining.
Given the difficulties in completely preventing a dog’s access to harmful substances, keeping a phone number close for an organization like the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control), is always a reasonable precaution for dog owners. For a reasonable fee, you can find out if a consumed substance (food or not) is potentially toxic, confirm if the dose consumed was enough to cause toxicity, and get information about the necessity of immediate veterinary care.
Halloween Stress and Running Away
Halloween can be a particularly stressful time for dogs. Costumed trick or treaters or loud parties (in years without COVID-19 concerns) may provide both a reason and an unattended door for a dog to flee the house. Making sure your dog is microchipped and has an up to date profile with the microchip company is probably the best precaution to make sure your dog gets home safely. Dogs delivered to veterinary hospitals or shelters are routinely screened for microchips and can be crucial for a happy reunion with your dog. If your dog is not microchipped, being vigilant about keeping a properly fitted collar and ID tag on your dog is a tried and true alternative.
For some dogs with a particularly anxious disposition, the stressors of Halloween can make for a terrifying time. Keeping them in a quiet and calm environment during Halloween festivities can often keep anxious dogs happier. As is relatively common with fireworks on Independence Day, in rare circumstances, some dogs may be best served by sedative medications to relieve their stress and to keep them from hurting themselves or others. If you think your dog is particularly sensitive to the stresses of Halloween, talk with your veterinarian about the best options for your critter.
As the cold winds blow and the creepers creep, simple precautions can mean the difference between a happy or downright dreadful Halloween for you and your canine friends. Here is to a very safe and happy Halloween from all of us at Paw Print Genetics!