Fall festivities are beginning, and like us, our pets are probably excited for the cooler weather. As we humans make preparations for the large candy-eating fest at the end of October, keep your pets in mind. Many of the delectable treats we consume during and after Halloween can pose life-threatening risks to ousehold animals if ingested.

The most common and often most severe toxicities are produced by theobromine, caffeine, and xylitol.

Theobromine and caffeine are compounds found in chocolate, and many sugar-free or sugar substitute products contain xylitol. Baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain more of the toxic ingredients, but milk chocolate can still have a deadly impact.

When your pet ingests chocolate, you may begin to see signs of toxicity within one to four hours. Symptoms include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessive drinking
  • Urination

As hours pass, more severe signs, such as weakness, diarrheaseizures, and stumbling will begin to appear. Chocolate toxicity is deadly if not treated, and death may occur as a result of seizures, cardiac disturbances, and/or failure of the respiratory system.

This is why it is imperative to seek veterinary care for your animal as soon as you know (or suspect) they have eaten chocolate. Based on their physical exam and medical evaluation, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to begin the detoxification process, coupled with administration of activated charcoal to further bind, absorb, and eliminate any toxin remaining in your pet’s stomach. Intravenous fluids will further help the detoxification process and can help correct electrolyte imbalances in your pet.

If seizures and/or muscle tremors are noted, the doctor will choose to give your pet anti-seizure medication. While there is no antidote for chocolate toxicity, supportive care is necessary for a good prognosis. Rapid veterinary care after ingestion will likely result in a happy outcome, but if several hours have passed and severe symptoms are present, the pet may die.

Xylitol is a sugar substitute used commonly in sugar-free gums and candies. It is rapidly absorbed by your pet’s body after oral ingestion, and causes severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) approximately fifteen minutes after eating. Low blood sugar is seen symptomatically as weakness, collapse, lethargy, and even seizures. Your pet may have a glassy-eyed appearance and may vomit. Xylitol also causes significant liver damage and even liver failure starting twelve hours after ingestion.

Because it begins to affect the animal’s body so quickly, it is imperative you take your pet to the veterinarian immediately after you realize they ate any substance containing xylitol. Even some peanut butter products contain xylitol. For a more detailed list of xylitol-containing products, check out this website.

Stay vigilant this Halloween and protect your pets from toxicity. What is delicious and safe for us can be life-threatening for them!

Want to learn more? Call us at (512) 288-1040 or come see us at Austin Veterinary Diagnostic Hospital today!

Image Credit: Thanks to our valued client Christine McLean for allowing Bailey to pose for our Halloween photo!

~ Sarah Kneupper, DVM
Austin Veterinary Diagnostic Hospital