Halloween - Trick or Treat?

Halloween is right around the corner, so this week we’re going to discuss… candy!  These tasty sweets can be dangerous for dogs, particularly those that contain chocolate, are sugar-free candy and those containing raisins. Although not life-threatening, ingestion of high-sugar candy can cause diarrhea by pulling water into the gastrointestinal tract and giving gut bacteria too much “food,” leading to excess growth of bacterial populations. Specific candy toxicities are discussed below:

Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which is related to caffeine. Dogs do not metabolize these compounds quickly, so they can experience more intense and lasting effects of these stimulants. Common signs of chocolate toxicity are anxiousness, panting, muscle twitches, rapid heart rate, and even seizures. Vomiting and diarrhea are also common and will sometimes be the only symptom in mild cases.

The weight of the dog, the amount of chocolate, and type of chocolate ingested are all factors that determine whether chocolate ingestion is toxic. As a general rule the darker the chocolate is more toxic it is (baking chocolate is far more toxic than milk chocolate), and larger amounts of any chocolate consumed by smaller dogs carries more risk of toxicity. Milk chocolate is often more concerning for the potential to cause illness and symptoms from pancreatitis, as a result of ingestion of sugar and fat, than true chocolate toxicity from theobromine.

Sugar-free candy with the sweetener xylitol is extremely dangerous to dogs. Xylitol causes large amounts of insulin release in the dog. This leads to a rapid drop in blood sugar levels which can manifest as  uncoordinated walking (ataxia), extreme lethargy and/or seizures.

Xylitol can also induce liver failure and blood clotting abnormalities. Any amount of xylitol ingested should be considered very toxic to Any size dog; if you suspect your dog has ingested this substance, you should immediately visit your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary clinic  for emergency treatment, hospitalization and monitoring.

Raisins (and grapes) have the potential to cause acute kidney failure in dogs. The frustrating thing about this toxicity is that we do not know what in the grapes or raisins causes the toxicity, and there is not a widely accepted toxic dose. Raisins tend to be more concerning than grapes as they present a more “concentrated” version of the fruit. Any ingestion comes with recommendations for emergency care to induce vomiting and, preferably, 48-72 hours of IV fluids and monitoring of kidney values.

In all cases of suspected toxin ingestion, it is advised to call your veterinarian, go to an emergency veterinarian or call ASPCA Poison Control  (888) 426-4435 immediately for further direction. If it is determined a toxic dose of a candy has been ingested, seeking medical care to induce vomiting as soon as possible is the best course of action. Depending on the amount ingested, further treatments may be indicated such as: administration of activated charcoal to help absorb toxins within the gastrointestinal tract, intravenous fluids, hospitalization, and drug therapy.

We wish everyone a happy and safe Halloween — and remember to keep that candy out of reach of the pups, which means the more for you as well!