Every year at Halloween, animal welfare organizations issue press releases urging owners to keep careful watch over their pets. They advise owners to prohibit their animals from eating chocolate, to be careful with spider web decorations and candy wrappers, to fight the urge to dress pets up in costume, and heaven forbid, if you have a black cat, keep it inside! The concern is serious enough that most humane societies avoid adopting out black cats during the Halloween season due to the risk of them being harmed. But are these groups becoming “chicken little” or are these serious concerns pet owners should take to heart? I spoke with Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Pet Adoption Center, to find out more.
I’ve read that chocolate contains a substance known as theobromine, a bitter, caffeine-related alkaloid, that can have a dangerous effect on pets. If this chemical builds up in your pet’s system, it can be lethal. How much chocolate does an animal have to eat for chocolate toxicosis to occur? One ounce of dark chocolate or 10 ounces of milk chocolate per 10 pounds of body weight can result in problems.
Does the theobromine in chocolate affect animals other than cats and dogs? Yes. An overdose of theobromine acts exactly like a caffeine overdose, causing vomiting, diarrhea, fast heart rates, tremors, and, if enough is consumed, seizures.
Is it true that if animals ingest fake spider webs they become lodged in their intestines? Can wildlife be harmed by these spider webs if they are placed outside? Yes, these types of decorations can cause blockage of the stomach or intestines if enough is eaten. Similar problems as well as entanglement could occur in wildlife. We are not aware of any such cases.
If animals ingest candy wrappers, could the aluminum foil or cellophane cause problems? Rarely. If large ingestions occurred, intestinal obstruction is possible but likely rare.
How do you feel about owners who dress up their pets? If you dress up your pet, make sure the costume does not constrict the animal’s movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark, or meow. Take a closer look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling, or easily chewed-off pieces that the pet could choke on.
What are the most common poison ingestion calls you receive from pet owners? The number one call involves dogs chewing up vials of prescription medications. Human medications must be stored above the counter in a closed cabinet. Other problems involve misuse of pesticides and exposure to poisonous plants (ASPCA.org has an extensive plant section).
(If your dog or cat accidentally ingests any potentially harmful products and you need emergency advice, consult your veterinarian or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 [a fee applies] or www.aspca.org/apcc.)
Should all animals, even friendly dogs, remain inside on Halloween night? During trick-or-treating hours, it is best to keep pets in a room away from your front door. Halloween brings a flurry of activity with visitors constantly arriving at the door, and pets may escape the safety of their home. Be sure that your pet has identification tags should he or she accidentally get loose. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with tags and/or is microchipped.
Many shelters across the nation put their black cats on “hold” for the Halloween season. Do you think this is really necessary? A common myth at Halloween is that there is an increase in mischief to black cats. We haven’t seen any evidence that indicates that black cats are at greater risk during Halloween. Some adoption facilities restrict the adoption of black cats to prevent any misbehavior, but the ASPCA hasn’t found sufficient proof to implement this. However, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on pets during this busy holiday.
Every year the ASPCA receives countless phone calls from panicked pet owners who are frantic about their dog or cat getting into Halloween chocolate. So while the sky certainly isn’t falling, there are still causes for concern around Halloween time, and pet owners really need to be vigilant. If you are a pet owner, please take this advice to heart!