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Tricks and Treats - Avoiding Pet Halloween Hazards

Halloween chocolates, treats and costumes - little ghosts, ghouls and goblins may enjoy them, but pets may not!

As Steve Erickson, DVM of All Pets Veterinary Clinic in Middleton and Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) member, points out, there are some situations you might not think of - and some you should keep in mind -- this time of year.

"Very often it's the kids in the household - not the adults - who leave chocolate accessible to dogs," said Dr. Erickson. "And that's especially true around Halloween, when those trick-or-treat bags land on the floors of the kids' bedrooms."

That means parents need to be especially vigilant this time of year.

So, what do you do if you suspect your dog has ingested chocolate? Call your veterinarian's office right away.

"When you call, be prepared with answers to some key questions," explained Dr. Erickson. "How big is your dog? What is the breed? How much chocolate was ingested? And, what kind of chocolate was it?"

That last question matters because different types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine, a stimulant related to caffeine, and the ingredient that's toxic - and potentially fatal -- to dogs.

Baking chocolate has the highest levels, followed by dark chocolate and then milk chocolate.

In fact, according to Dr. Erickson, theobromine is toxic to people as well but no human would ever eat enough chocolate for the theobromine levels to become toxic. It's the ratio of weight to theobromine concentration that's critical.

And while the weight of the dog and the amount of chocolate ingested factor into the equation, Dr. Erickson said there could be other variables in a specific situation, so it's always best to avoid playing "amateur veterinarian" and to call the veterinarian you know and trust.

So, what happens if your Labradoodle has become a little too friendly with a block of baking chocolate?

"First, we try to minimize the amount of chocolate absorbed from the GI tract by inducing vomiting and by giving activated charcoal to absorb any remaining," explained Dr. Erickson. "But if the dog already shows signs of toxicity, we'll need to administer IV fluids, tranquilizers and even anti-seizure drugs."

Prevention is key when it comes to protecting dogs from chocolate. And be mindful of "hidden dangers" - in the form of gift-wrapped boxes of chocolate -- during this upcoming holiday season.

With some extra caution - and reminders to the kids - you can keep Fido safe and healthy and avoid surprise veterinary expenses.

Additional tips

Here are some tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association and WVMA to help you ensure your pet has a happy and safe Halloween.

Don't leave your pet outside unattended on Halloween (or on the days preceding or following this holiday). Halloween pranks committed against pets can be vicious, and black cats are particularly at risk.

Halloween treats are for people, not pets. Candy wrappers and lollipop sticks can be hazardous if swallowed and chocolate can be poisonous for some types of pets.

Keep pumpkins out of reach of curious noses and paws. Pets may knock over a lit pumpkin and cause a fire or burn themselves.

Despite how much fun it is for people, many pets don't enjoy getting dressed up for Halloween. If you do dress your pet, be sure that its costume doesn't interfere with the pet's ability to breathe, see, hear, move, or bark.

Consider keeping your pet in a separate room, away from the door, when trick-or-treaters arrive. Strange people in even stranger clothes can frighten some pets.

When you do answer the door for visitors, make sure that your pet doesn't suddenly head for the great outdoors. In case your pet does escape, make sure that it is wearing proper identification. Pets with identification are much more likely to be returned to their owners.

For more information and tips about holiday safety for pets, call or visit your WVMA member veterinarian or find one online at www.wvma.org. Remember, your veterinarian is your very best source for advice on keeping your pet safe, healthy, and happy!

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