Halloween can be a fun time for both human and pets alike. There are multiple opportunities for fun costumes, parties with your friends, and various community events. But sometimes what seems like fun can turn into a dangerous situation for your pet. You may see trick-or-treating as a fun time to go door-to-door asking for a candy, but your pet may see it as a free-for-all buffet of chocolates and Halloween treats alike. Trick-or-treaters coming to your house may seem like a good time, but to your pet, it could seem like your house is under a constant barrage of attack from people in scary costumes and freaky masks. These are just a few of the examples that illustrate how Halloween may be fun for some family member but scary for others.
Read on below as we outline some of the most common dangers that can occur on Halloween. It should be noted that each pet is different; your dog may bark at the door while your cat ignores all your new spooky visitors. Monitor your pets for their individual signs of stress or fear and tailor your approach to Halloween safety accordingly.
The most obvious danger for Halloween is the candy. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, walking around your neighborhood on Halloween night or the day after can lead to your pet sniffing out some candy in the bushes during your morning walks. Here’s how to tell if your pet has eaten chocolate and the steps that you should take after.
Symptoms of Poisoning
If your 50-pound dog gets his paws on a single chocolate-chip cookie, it probably won’t cause him serious problems. However, if he gobbles up more – a bag of Halloween candy, say – he may develop vomiting or diarrhea.
Once toxic levels are reached, the stimulants kick in, and this is when you really have to worry. Symptoms include restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination and/or excessive panting. If your pet isn’t treated, he could go into a seizure – possibly even die.
How Much Is Toxic?
The amount of chocolate that it takes to poison your pet depends on the type of chocolate he’s eaten and his weight. White chocolate has the least amount of stimulants, and baking chocolate or cocoa beans have the highest. Here is a list of the most common sources of chocolate and the amount that leads to toxicity:
Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 45 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe toxicity occurs when 90 ounces per pound of body weight in ingested. This means that a 20-pound dog would need to ingest at least 55 pounds of white chocolate to cause nervous system signs. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 27 pounds. Yes, that is twenty-seven pounds! White chocolate has very little real chocolate in it. Therefore, the levels of caffeine and theobromine are very low. Tremendous amounts of white chocolate need to be ingested in order to cause toxic signs from chocolate. It is highly unlikely that white chocolate ingestion will result in the toxic neurologic signs but, the severe gastrointestinal effects from a high-fat food develop with much less white chocolate ingestion.
Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 2 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that a little less than one pound of milk chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 1/2 pound.
Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 1/3 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 1 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that as little as 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 3 ounces.
Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.1 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Two small one-ounce squares of baking chocolate can be toxic to a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 1 ounce of baking chocolate. This type of chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine and very little needs to be ingested before signs of illness become apparent.
Even if your pet doesn’t eat enough chocolate to induce toxicity, the candy’s high-fat content may cause him to vomit or have diarrhea in much smaller amounts than those shown. If that happens, watch him carefully. If his symptoms don’t clear up within eight hours, call your veterinarian (if your pet is very small or young, call within four hours); aside from toxicity issues, you don’t want the animal to dehydrate. Try to be as precise as you can about the type of chocolate the animal ate, how much he took and approximately when he ate it.
The sooner you get help, the better off your pet will be. If your pet is showing signs of toxicity, he has a good prognosis if he’s treated within four to six hours of ingestion. The effects of the chocolate can linger for 12 to 36 hours, though, so your pet may require hospitalization. When in doubt always seek the help of a veterinarian professional.
2. Door Dashing
Do you have a cat or dog that tries to bolt everytime the door opens? The easiest answer here is to schedule your pet in a separate, secure, room for the evening as trick-or-treaters visit your home. If that is not a possibility for your home, we recommend you try one of the following techniques.
- Practice good door behavior with a few simple steps in the weeks before Halloween to start your pet on the right path.
- Attach a leash to your pet to allow freedom to move around the house while still offering something to grab onto if your furry friend tried to make a great escape.
- For dog-only households, or households who have cats that can be kept in closed rooms during the holiday, try setting up a baby gate in front of your front door. Place the gate on the outside trim of your doorway so that you’ll be able to open and close your door without letting your pup out while handing out candy.
3. Fear Aggression
One of the most frustrating experiences for a dog owner is having a dog that hates strangers with a vengeance. Fear-aggressive dogs are not necessarily aggressive to all strangers; they often single out certain types of people as particularly abhorrent. Men and children are the most common objects of this aggression, though women are certainly not immune. And with a holiday filled with strange children and their parents coming to your door, this can easily become an issue.
As with all other fears, desensitization, a process of gradual, systematic re-exposure to the fear-inducing stimulus, is the gold standard of treatment. This stepwise approach is usually carried out in conjunction with counterconditioning (training a different, more acceptable attitude and response and at each stage of the introduction process). Counterconditioning, which is usually accomplished using food treats in conjunction with a “relax” command, is not absolutely necessary but expedites the desensitization process. The only way to deal with fear aggression is through training. Unless you’re prepared to put up a fence keeping children away from your front door, try following the steps below to help your pet with his fear aggression.
- First, prevent any uncontrolled exposure to strangers.
- Teach the dog a “sit and watch me” command or, alternatively, have him remain in a relaxed down-stay position. Reward the dog’s compliance with food treats and/or petting and warm praise.
- Introduce a mildly fear-inducing person at a distance. Reward the dog for remaining calm. As long as the dog remains relaxed, ask the person to move a little closer, and repeat the exercise.
- If the dog is resistant to remaining still, an alternative strategy is to have the person stand still while you walk the dog around the person in progressively decreasing circles (or vice versa)… again, praising and rewarding the dog for composure and compliance.
- If the dog remains calm when the person is close by him, the person can then be asked to drop a treat for the dog. If the dog consumes the treat, this is an indication that he is fairly relaxed. Later the person can hold out a treat in his hand and see if the dog has the confidence to take it. The golden rule is: NEVER force the issue. Allow things to proceed at their own pace.
- During the early stages of training, assistants should be advised not to make direct eye contact with the dog and not approach the dog directly. Instead, have them to approach at an angle or with a curved trajectory, to move slowly but purposefully, and to avert their gaze, looking perhaps at the dog’s ears or nose rather than directly into his eyes. An approach like this is less threatening to most dogs.
- If the dog cannot maintain a controlled sit or down, and cannot focus on the owner because he is tense, barking, or lunging at the stranger, then the owner should return to an earlier phase of training. Ideally, during the training process, no one should come close enough to the dog to trigger a fearful or aggressive response. If the stranger approaches too close and the dog becomes aggressive, they should stand still until the owner can get the dog’s attention, preferably in response to a previously trained cue. The dog should then be rewarded for the corrected response. Following such an incident, the owner can ask the person to retreat to a distance at which the dog was comfortable previously and resume training (providing that the dog does not remain aroused).
Keep Your Pet Safe With PetPlace
Keep your pet safe this holiday season with PetPlace. As fall starts to make its appearance, we’ll be covering all things pets for the holidays here on PetPlace. Have a topic you want us to cover? Leave us a comment down below on what you think our next holiday pet topic should be.