By Lindsey Hughes
When my siblings and I were younger our Australian Shepherd, Border Collie mix, Maggie, would wait anxiously at my youngest brother’s feet after a long night of trick-or-treating in hopes that his overflowing bag of candy would burst open so she could get some tasty Halloween candy. To her dismay, it never happened. It never happened because even though Kyle, the messy eater in the family, supplied Maggie with bits of dropped chicken or steak almost every night during dinner he knew chocolate was a big no-no.
It’s one of those things everyone seems to know: chocolate is poisonous to pets. But what about the hundreds of other poisons out there? In all honesty chocolate probably isn’t even the biggest thing you need to worry about this Halloween. Realistically that snack size Hershey bar doesn’t have enough toxins to do major damage. Instead you should be on the lookout for xylitol. While xylitol sounds like something that’s hard to come by, you’d be shocked to know how much of it is in your home. Do you have a pack of sugar-free gum or sugar-free candy lying around? Do you bake with artificial sweeteners? Do you use toothpaste, mouth wash and/or mints? If you said “yes” to any of these you probably have xylitol in your home.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener that is a natural sugar substitute. While it won’t hurt us, unless it’s consumed in a huge quantity, it is extremely dangerous to our pets. Consuming just a few grams of xylitol can be fatal to a 65 pound dog. A dog of that size would have to eat over 3 pounds (about 4 and a half bags) of those snack sized Halloween chocolates to have the same effect. So what do you do if your dog consumes too much of a bad “treat”?
First you need to watch for signs of poisoning. If your dog ate a few sugar-free gummy bears, he’ll probably be fine. However, you should still look for signs of tremors, vomiting, increased heart rate and diarrhea. While watching for those signs, call your vet for additional advice. If your dog ate an entire bag of sugar-free gummies you need to do something more extreme: induce vomiting. Since this may be pretty messy, put your pet in your shower, bathtub or bring him someplace easily cleanable like your backyard.
To induce vomiting, give your dog 2 to 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide. If your dog does not vomit within three minutes, give him 2 or 3 more tablespoons. While doing this make sure to have someone contact your vet or an emergency animal care center in your area. If you can’t get a hold of anyone there are a few poison control centers you can call. The Pet Poison Helpline offers 24-hour vet services for $35 per incident. The Animal Poison Control Center, operated by the ASPCA, has a similar hotline that costs $60 per incident.
Hopefully you won’t have to go through this on Halloween, or any other time for that matter. If you know your dog is easily excitable or that he’ll do anything for a “treat,” you may want to consider keeping him in a safe room or in his crate so he’ll be away from trick-or-treaters and your all important stash of candy!