Halloween poses a number of health and welfare risks to dogs, from eating foods that can be toxic to man's best friend, such as chocolate and some sweets, to being scared by trick or treaters and children in costumes.
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which can be poisonous to dogs, as well as other animals such as cats, rodents and rabbits. Generally speaking, the darker and more expensive the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, and the more poisonous it is. White chocolate contains very little theobromine and so is unlikely to cause chocolate poisoning. White chocolate is still very fatty and can cause problems with a dog's pancreas known as pancreatitis.
If large enough amounts are eaten, Chocolate can initially make your dog sick or give them a stomach upset. Theobromine is a stimulant and can cause your dog to become excitable, develop muscle twitching, tremors, fitting and life-threatening problems with their heart.
Find out more about chocolate poisoning.
If available in large quantities, some dogs may gorge themselves on sugary sweets kept aside for, or collected by, trick or treaters. After eating lots of sugar, or even lots of fat, dogs can develop pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas), which may cause them to be off their food, be sick, have an upset stomach, become tired or go into organ failure.
Some sugar-free sweets and chewing gums contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol, which can be very poisonous to dogs. Xylitol is more commonly found in food products in America, but is beginning to appear in sugar-free products in the UK as well. Xylitol can cause an otherwise healthy dog's blood sugar level to drop to dangerous levels and can also cause liver failure.
If eaten, sweet wrappers, lollipop sticks, food containers/boxes, or even small parts from Halloween costumes or decorations can all cause a blockage in your dog's throat, stomach or gut. This can be very dangerous and may require surgery. Signs of a blockage can include your dog being off their food, being sick, tiredness or finding it difficult to poo.
Keep all candles and candlelit carved pumpkins out of the way of waggy tails and nosy noses. A knocked over candle may cause your dog to become burnt, or could start a house fire. Place any lit items on surfaces that are not likely to reached or jolted by your dog.
If using small battery operated lights inside your pumpkin, remember that if these are chewed the batteries inside them could be harmful to dogs.
Trick or treaters
Frequent calls at the door from costumed trick or treaters may make your dog anxious or stressed. Think about how your dog is when you usually have visitors at the door, and take extra precautions to keep your dog calm and in a quiet and safe place throughout the evening. Masks and costumes can cause even the most familiar people to look and smell different to a dog, so if going out trick or treating, you may wish to leave your dog at home.
Tips for keeping your dog safe at Halloween
Taking a few simple precautions can ensure that Halloween is a happy and healthy time for dogs:
- Keep chocolate out of reach of dogs
- Hide the sweets or keep them out of paws reach
- Be careful of lit pumpkins and never leave your dog unattended with a lit candle, even when it is inside a pumpkin
- If using battery lights in your pumpkins make sure your dog doesn't chew them
- Be careful around of trick or treaters. Take extra care to ensure your dog is kept calm and happy. For advice on how to keep your dog safe in unfamiliar situations, contact a Kennel Club accredited instructor who are experts in dog behaviour and training
- Be aware of choking hazards
- Always have the number of your dog's vet to hand - If your dog has eaten chocolate, lots of sweets or items which may block its airway, contact your vet immediately for advice. They will need to know what was eaten, when and how much. If your dog eats something they shouldn't, do not attempt to make them sick unless your vet advises this, as this could cause further problems
- Consider walking your dog at a different time - If your dog is usually walked in the early evening, consider changing the time of the walk on Halloween to make it a bit earlier or a bit later to avoid the rush of trick or treaters, who may scare your dog or cause unnecessary stress. Also be aware that fireworks are available before Halloween and loud bangs and sudden bright lights may spook your dog
- Take extra care around children - On Halloween, your dog is likely to come into contact with lots of children - probably more than usual - so it is important that you are aware of your dog's reaction to children and can prepare accordingly. Equally it is important to be prepared for children wanting to touch your dog, which can cause extra stress, particularly if the children are in costume and excitable
What to do if your dog has eaten something it shouldn't
- Consult your local veterinary practice immediately
- It is important that your veterinary practice makes an informed decision as to whether your dog needs to be clinically assessed or treated. Where possible ensure that you tell them:
- what your dog has eaten
- how much has been eaten
- when it was eaten
- Do not try and make your dog sick - trying to do this can sometimes cause other complications, which can make your dog unwell
Think your dog may be affected?
If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!
We're not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.
Find a vet near you
If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a Vet page.