Halloween is a fun, spooky and often tasty time for us—but many treats associated with Halloween can put your pet’s health at risk. Chocolate and xylitol are two major ingredients in your favorite candies that could have major consequences if they get in your pet’s paws.
Chocolate can cause upset stomachs (including vomiting and diarrhea), heart arrhythmia, panting, hyperactivity, kidney failure, increased urination, hypoglycemia, muscle spasms, seizures and even death if large amounts are consumed.
The danger hidden in chocolate is theobromine, a chemical compound found, along with caffeine, in the methylxanthine family, which is full of substances that are toxic to dogs and cats. Theobromine itself is only toxic in certain quantities; the minimum dose in order to be counted as toxic ranges from 46 to 68 mg/lb, and there’s a 50% chance of death if a dog consumes 114 to 228 mg/lb or more.
Theobromine is found in different concentrations depending on the type of chocolate. Dark and baking chocolate are the most dangerous, but even white chocolate contains small amounts of this toxic chemical.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener used in things like sugarless chewing gum, peanut butter, toothpaste, baked goods and many diet/sugar-free foods. Dogs enjoy its sweet taste, but it is extremely toxic to them and can cause vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, extremely low blood sugar and fatal liver failure.
The reason xylitol is so toxic for dogs is because, unlike in humans, it stimulates a rapid release of insulin from the pancreas, which may result in an extreme decrease in the level of blood sugar. This is a condition, known as hypoglycemia, can occur within 10–60 minutes of ingestion and needs to be treated right away. While xylitol does not seem to be as dangerous for other pets, ferrets have been known to react similarly to dogs, with low blood sugar and seizures.
Make sure to check the ingredients of products that commonly contain xylitol and keep them well out outside the reach of your pets.
It can be difficult to keep an eye on all that your pet consumes, so it’s important, with all the candy floating this time of year, that you’re attuned to your pet’s behavior. The moment they begin to exhibit signs that they’ve ingested chocolate or xylitol, call our hospital at (703) 956-1522. If the emergency happens outside business hours, you can contact the ASPCA Poison Control Center.