Halloween a risky holiday for pets

For dogs and cats, Halloween is a holiday filled with more tricks than treats. And even perceived treats — in all those bite-sized, shiny wrappers — are actually scary for animals.

The first precaution many dog owners take on Halloween night?

“I just keep them inside,” said Annette Jeannotte, owner of two Chihuahua mixes. The constant stream of strangers at the door makes the dogs nervous.

Don Hall, owner of five beagles ranging in age from 7 months to 18 years, said the same: “(I) stay home and keep with them.”

Local veterinarians also recommend keeping pets in a separate room, out of sight of the door, so that the frequent visitors in costume don’t scare or stress the pet. With the frequent opening and closing of the door, pets can also quickly dash out of the house and become lost.

“Turning on some music will make their night a little bit easier and decrease the anxiety,” veterinarian Gerald Pribyl, with Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital, said.

For pet owners who do decide to double their kids’ trick-or-treating trip as an evening walk, Jason Sulliban, a veterinarian with Aloha Animal Hospital, recommends keeping dogs on a short leash to prevent them from darting toward other dogs or groups of people — and possibly into the street where they could be hit by a car.

“I’m not a huge fan of those retractable leashes because you really can’t control where they’re going,” Sulliban said.

Candy is the major risk for both dogs and cats at Halloween. Although no candy is good for animals (or humans, for that matter), chocolate is particularly toxic. The stimulant in chocolate, theobromine, causes pets’ heart rates to shoot up. That means that the more cacao is in the chocolate — in other words, the darker the chocolate is — the more toxic it is for animals.


Although large dogs would mostly only experience diarrhea and vomiting from eating a small piece of milk chocolate, for smaller dogs the effects of even a small bar of very dark chocolate could be dire. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning can include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate and seizure in the more extreme instances.

For cats in particular, the artificial sweetener Xylitol, commonly found in gum, is also toxic.

If pets do ingest something they shouldn’t, veterinarians recommend calling the nearest animal hospital, where they can calculate the risk to the pet based on their weight and the amount of chocolate eaten. Veterinarians can induce vomiting within an hour of eating the chocolate. The Las Vegas Animal Emergency Hospital is open nights and can be contacted at 702-822-1045. The ASPCA also operates an Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week (a fee may apply).

And although black cats as an evil omen may be superstition, veterinarians still advise owners to keep them inside and away from pranksters. In more than 30 years practicing in Las Vegas, Pribyl recalled one instance of a black cat getting shot on Halloween.

Local shelters and animal hospitals also recommend that pet owners:

■ Try a costume on their pet before Halloween and ensure it fits properly and does not rub or chafe. “You want to put it on beforehand to see if they like it. Some animals don’t mind it, some will feel a lot of anxiety and tear it off and rip it up and eat it,” Pribyl said. Pet owners should also look out for any loose pieces that a pet could chew on.

■ Keep open flames out of pets’ reach, such as the jack-o’-lantern’s candles, or use battery-operated lights instead.

■ Keep seasonal foods, such as pumpkins and corn on the cob, away from pets. Ingesting a corn cob or large chunk of pumpkin can cause intestinal obstruction. “That’s something that people don’t think about but it’s very real,” Pribyl said.

■ Ensure pets do not chew on glow sticks, as the liquid inside can make them salivate and act strangely.

Read more from Sarah Corsa at Contact her at and follow @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

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