5 Scary Food Items Your Dog Should Avoid

Jane Costa, DVM
Published on October 25, 2020

America’s favorite, frightful holiday is just around the corner, and with it comes an abundance of treats. While most of us can appreciate sweets as a quintessential part of any Halloween celebration, pets and candy do not go paw-in-paw. If your dog accidentally indulges in any ghoulish goodies this Halloween, you may be in for a scare—and a visit to the veterinarian. Generally speaking, candy is not for pets, but certain types can be particularly harmful. Beware of these harmful foods this Halloween and any time of year, and best of all, keep them away from your pets.

Chocolate

You’ve likely heard this before, but dogs and chocolate do not mix. In fact, this ingredient tops the list of nightmarish foods in the veterinary world year-round, and Halloween is certainly no exception. Chocolate contains powerful chemicals known as methylxanthines that affect the nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems in dogs. While people can easily digest methylxanthines, pups metabolize these compounds at a much slower rate, putting them at risk for a dangerous build-up of caffeine and theobromine—the two methylxanthines found in chocolate.

It’s true that baking and dark chocolates have more concentrated levels of these chemicals, but even milk and white chocolates have the potential to cause serious harm to dogs who ingest them. Some common signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, increased drinking, and hyper-excitability, which may progress to incoordination, seizures, or cardiac arrhythmias. Whether by hayride or broomstick, head to your veterinarian right away if your pet exhibits any of these signs on or around Halloween.

Xylitol

Commonly found in chewing gum, toothpaste, peanut butter, and artificially-sweetened baked goods, xylitol is a popular ingredient in many products. It’s also likely to lurk in a variety of Halloween candies—unbeknownst to many pet owners. Xylitol tricks a dog’s body—chiefly, the pancreas—into releasing an abundance of insulin, which can cause alarmingly low blood sugar levels. High levels of the substance may even lead to irreversible liver damage.

Signs of xylitol intoxication are similar to those of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting, disorientation, tremors, and seizures, and it only takes a small amount of xylitol to cause a big problem. Even one stick of sugar-free gum can induce toxic outcomes in small dogs.

Raisins

Raisin toxicity in dogs is unfortunately common. In fact, grapes, raisins, currants, and anything else from the Vitis spp group has the potential to cause severe and acute kidney injury in dogs. And, since many popular Halloween candies, bars, and mixes contain these fruits, it can be a common problem this time of year.

The mechanism by which raisins cause kidney failure is not completely understood, but it may be related to the dog’s metabolism, chemicals inside the fruit, or residues on the fruit. Signs that your dog may be experiencing grape or raisin toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, increased drinking or urination, abdominal pain, or inappetence. Unfortunately, you can’t cure raisin toxicity but, curiously, some dogs don’t appear to be affected by grape or raisin ingestion at all. Until we better understand this problem, be sure to keep raisins away from your dog.

Sugar and fat

The hallmarks of Halloween candy are also what make them so appealing to us—and our dogs. Sugar and fat have an impressive impact on brain receptors that register pleasure and satisfaction, which keeps us coming back for more. But, ingesting high amounts of sugar and fat can put your pet at risk for a painful, and even sometimes fatal condition known as pancreatitis. The pancreas, an organ with both digestive and endocrine duties, can easily become overwhelmed if met with a large, rich, and fatty meal. This causes the organ to release enzymes and other inflammatory substances that end up causing harm to itself.

Signs of pancreatitis may begin shortly after consumption of rich, fatty foods but it could take up to four days before pets become ill. Keep an eye out for signs like vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, lethargy, and abdominal pain, being sure to report any abnormalities to your veterinarian. Remember that long-term ingestion of high-fat and sugar-laden foods can also put your dog at risk for obesity and diabetes—two other common, crippling conditions that afflict our pet population.

Candy Wrappers

When was the last time you watched your pet unwrap a chocolate candy bar before devouring it? Chances are, they skipped this step and went straight for the entire bag—plastic wrappers and all. Not only are many popular Halloween candies capable of making dogs sick, but their packaging could lead to a chilling chain of events, too. While candy wrappers are unlikely to cause toxic effects after ingestion, they can bulk up in the stomach or intestines, putting your pet at risk for a dangerous obstruction that could require surgery.

Jane Costa, DVM

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