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Understanding the Danger of Halloween Candy for Dogs

When most people think of October, they think of that special day toward the end of the year when kids dress up and begin their month-long sugar high. However, what is sometimes overlooked is the danger that Halloween can be to the four-legged occupants of the house. A pillowcase full of Halloween candy can be just as appealing to a playful pup as it can be to the child who collected it. Between the decorative, noisy wrappers and the sweet aroma that emanates from those wrappers, Halloween candy is a pet’s dream, as much as it is their nightmare.

The initial worry about the consumption of a large amount of candy for a pet of any size is pancreatitis. The pancreas is an organ located near the stomach that regulates both the release of digestive enzymes and insulin. A sudden intake of a large amount of fats and sugars can stimulate the pancreas to secrete an overdose of digestive enzymes. This essentially causes the pancreas to begin digesting itself and surrounding organs. The damage caused to the pancreas can alter its ability to further produce digestive enzymes and critical blood sugar-regulating hormones. Some symptoms of pancreatitis include depression, fever, painful abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice.

The prognosis for pancreatitis is generally pretty grave. Once over the initial inflammation, animals may have chronic problems such as diabetes or being at high risk for pancreatitis again. However, if the condition is not caught early enough, even with hospitalization and continuous IV fluids, pancreatitis can often be fatal. Treatments include fasting for two to three days, IV fluids, antibiotics and pain management.

Another worry with Halloween candy ingestion is chocolate toxicity. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine that in large amounts, can be very dangerous. Theobromine can cause tachycardia (increased heart rate), which can lead to cardiac arrest. It is also a diuretic, which causes increased urination. Other symptoms of eating chocolate include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, seizures and tremors, most of which are usually from the high sugar/fat intake rather than the theobromine.

Different types of chocolate contain higher levels of theobromine than others. Baker’s chocolate contains the most, followed by dark or semi-sweet chocolate, and finally milk chocolate. The amount of various types of chocolate affects dogs differently, depending on their size. For example, a 40-pound dog would have to eat 16.5 ounces of milk chocolate for it to reach a toxic level, 5.5 ounces of dark chocolate, and only 1.9 ounces of baking chocolate before toxicity occurs. For a small dog, however, it takes a fraction of that amount to make it deathly ill. It is important that a pet who eats chocolate is induced to vomit within one to two hours of consumption, and it may need further treatment depending on the amount eaten.

If your large dog eats two “Fun Size” candy bars, it is likely that it will not die of chocolate poisoning, however, it may feel a bit ill. In conclusion, it is better to be safe than sorry and keep your pet from eating any candy at all. Store candy and other sweets at a high level where pets will not be enticed, even in the slightest. Remind children that dog cookies are a much better treat for Rover than a chocolate bar. And most importantly, have a fun and safe Halloween!! FBN

By Dr. Jenny Seiss

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