Pet Connections

Avoid Getting Tricked by Your Treats: Minimizing Canine Holiday Related Toxin Risks

By Christina Genareo, DVM

The holiday season brings with it many joys, but the veterinary emergency room often, unfortunately, sees an increase in toxicity related cases during most holidays, including during celebrations of Halloween. Severity of clinical signs following toxin ingestion can vary greatly depending on the type of toxin ingested and dose ingested. As is the case with any toxins, Benjamin Franklin’s assessment remains true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To minimize the need for a trip to the ER this fall, consider evaluating for the presence of and removing from your dog’s environment common Halloween associated toxins described below.

Chocolate is one of the most common toxins ingested by dogs. Depending on the type of chocolate ingested and the dose ingested by a dog, toxicity signs following toxin ingestion can vary from mild signs (vomiting, diarrhea) to more severe signs (tremors, seizures, heart arrhythmias). Chocolate raisins that may be ingested have the added kidney toxicity risk that comes from the ingestion of grapes and raisins.

Sugar free candies, including sugar free gum, can similarly result in severe signs of toxicity. Low blood sugar can develop quickly after ingestion of even small amounts of sugar free candy (ex: a 10 pound dog can develop signs of toxicity after ingestion of even just one piece of gum!). Dogs can also experience liver associated toxicity following ingestion of sugar free products.

Though sugar free candies carry extreme risks to dogs if ingested, ingestion of large amounts of sugar and/or fat can also be dangerous to dogs. Ingestion of large amounts of sugar can result in water shifting within the body to result in a consequential increase in a dog’s blood sodium level. High sodium levels put dogs at risk for development of neurologic signs such as lack of responsiveness and seizures. Ingestion of high fat candies or holiday treats can increase the burden on the digestive system and increase the risk for development of pancreatitis, an often-painful inflammatory condition of the pancreas that can result in signs of GI upset and, in severe cases, can be life-threatening.

Other than ingestion of sweets themselves, dogs can also experience emergency conditions from the products that often accompany trick-or-treaters, as is the case when dogs ingest candy wrappers or glow sticks. Ingestion of candy wrappers can result in gastrointestinal foreign bodies/obstructions/blockages with the potential need for surgical intervention. Glow stick ingestion can result in sudden onset of gagging, vomiting, and irritation to the eye and skin.

Considering the risk for toxicity if a dog encounters Halloween related toxins, keeping such toxins out of a dog’s reach (Ex: keeping the candy in a room or refrigerator outside a dog’s reach) is best. Some families also find training a dog to tolerate wearing a basket muzzle when not directly supervised as a secondary step to minimize toxin ingestion.

If, despite all best efforts, a toxin is ingested, seek emergency care, and contact one of the following animal toxicology hotlines to allow for treatment guidance:

  • Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435.




December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


December 14, 2023