Dangerous Foods for Dogs: Halloween Edition

by Sundays

Chocolate is bad, but it's not the only treat turned threat to your dog at this time of year.

The possibility of having candy in your house around Halloween is probably pretty high, whether you’re handing it out, going trick-or-treating, or just loading up on half-price deals the next day. That’s great for you, but not so great for your dog (although your dog thinks it’s pretty great).

Most of our favorite Halloween foods can cause a lot of issues for our canine friends, so make sure to keep your stash up high and way out of reach of curious noses.

Here are the top foods, ingredients, and types of treats that can cause problems for your pup at this time of year and beyond. 

Most Dangerous Halloween Foods for Dogs

Let’s start with the worst stuff your dog can get into:

Sugar-Free Candy and Foods

Believe it or not, sugar-free candy can be way worse than the sugar-filled kind. It may not have sugar, but in its place is usually some other type of sweetener, whether it’s artificial or natural. 

Xylitol is a sweetener that’s found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It’s also added to many low-calorie and sugar-free foods to make them taste sweet, including sugar-free gum, mints, and candy; peanut butter; yogurt; fruit drinks; ice cream; cookies; puddings; gummy vitamins; protein bars; drink mixes; and jelly. You’ll also see it in a lot of toothpastes and mouthwashes.

While it’s safe for humans, it’s very dangerous for dogs. Xylitol stimulates a dog’s body to release insulin, which leads to low blood sugar and liver failure. In a small dog, just 1 piece of sugar-free gum can cause low blood sugar, and 3 could cause liver damage.

Check the ingredients list for any foods you think might have xylitol. It can also show up as several other names, including wood sugar, birch sugar, birch bark extract, or sugar alcohols.  

Raisins in Any Form

Raisins are dried grapes, and grapes are toxic to dogs. Raisins are even more toxic because the toxin is more concentrated in the dried form of the fruit. 

You may be thinking, well, my dog’s eaten grapes before, and nothing happened. It’s true that dogs can react differently to the toxin, and you may have lucked out. But you don’t want to take any chances when it comes to foods that are dangerous for dogs. Just 1-2 grapes or 1 raisin can cause a problem in very small dogs, or a handful for a medium-size or large dog. You don’t know how your dog will react to the toxin, so you always want to call the vet to be on the safe side. Unlike chocolate, the exact amount of toxicity in each grape or raisin is unknown therefore it is always best to be very cautious with grapes and raisins. 

Raisins on their own are a big problem for dogs, but when you have yogurt-covered or chocolate-covered raisins, the situation gets even more serious, since chocolate is also toxic to dogs. Beware the dark-chocolate Raisinets! 

Dark Chocolate

All chocolate is toxic to dogs, but dark chocolate is especially dangerous. The first reason is that it has a lot of caffeine, which is a stimulant, but it also has a similar chemical called theobromine that’s toxic to dogs as well. A dog’s body is way more sensitive to these chemicals than we are, and they can’t metabolize them well. 

Both caffeine and theobromine stimulate the heart and dilate the blood vessels. Baking chocolate and fancy dark chocolate bars have way higher concentrations of these substances than milk chocolate, with three to nine times the amount of theobromine per ounce

If you’re a fan of the fancy chocolate bars that say “70% pure cacao” or higher, you should keep them in the fridge or freezer to make sure your dog can’t get into them.  

According to Veterinary Partner, these are the toxic doses of theobromine:
  • Mild signs = 9 mg per pound of a dog’s weight 
  • Severe signs = Up to 18 mg per pound 

And this gives you an idea of how much theobromine is in different types of chocolate:
  • Milk chocolate: 44-58 mg per ounce 
  • Semisweet chocolate: 150 mg per ounce
  • Baking chocolate: 390 mg per ounce
  • Dark chocolate: 130-450 mg per ounce

So for a dog that weighs 40 pounds, just 1 ounce of baking chocolate, or 6-8 ounces of milk chocolate would be enough to cause mild signs of theobromine toxicity.

The Merck Veterinary Manual has a chocolate toxicity tool that has very general categories of chocolate. Enter your pet’s weight and amount and type of chocolate: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/chocolate-toxicosis-in-animals

Somewhat Dangerous Halloween Treats

Here are some Halloween goodies that might not top the list of most dangerous foods for dogs, but they are still pretty troublesome:

Hard Candy and Lollipops

There are plenty of reasons why candy and lollipops are not good for pets. Yes, there’s plenty of sugar, but the bigger threat may be the choking hazard. Some dogs inhale their food, especially when they’ve gotten ahold of treats they know are forbidden and want to scarf them down before they get caught. This increases the danger. 

Aside from possibly causing your dog to choke, hard candy can also create a stomach obstruction if your dog eats a bunch of them. And then you have the wrappers and lollipop sticks. These can get stuck in the throat and cause choking, or they could get lodged in the intestines and cause a blockage. 

Milk Chocolate

Like dark chocolate, milk chocolate is toxic to dogs because of theobromine and caffeine. Since Halloween candy bars like Snickers, Milky Way, or Baby Ruth contain a lot of other ingredients and are not pure chocolate, they aren’t as dangerous as dark chocolate bars. 

But those other ingredients common to Halloween candy bars are not so great for your pup, either. The corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavors, palm oil, lactose, and milk can all cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Just half of a snack-size candy bar can cause problems.

Less Dangerous, But Still Not Good!

These Halloween treats can cause some tummy trouble for your pup, although ingredients like sugar and butter aren’t toxic for dogs.

Sugar-Filled and Sour Candies

If chocolate isn’t your thing, maybe you go for all the sugary and/or sour candies, like Nerds, candy corn, Gummy Bears, Trolli worms, Skittles, Starburst, and SweeTarts. Every candy has sugar, but some are especially bad with tons of added sugar as well as artificial colors and flavors. 

For instance, here are some amounts of sugar in one serving size of common Halloween candy:

Serving size (for humans) | Grams of sugar | % of recommended daily value (for humans)
15 pieces candy corn | 22 grams | 44%
6 Starburst original chews | 16 grams | 32%
6 pieces Hi-Chew Sweet & Sour | 19 grams | 38%
1 tiny box Nerds | 11 grams | 22%

It might be okay if your dog eats a small amount of a sugary candy if there are no toxic ingredients, although your dog may have some diarrhea or gas. The size of your dog and the amount they ate will determine whether you’ll be spending Halloween at the vet’s office, though.

In general, eating foods with a lot of sugar is not good for dogs with diabetes or those that are obese, and on the flipside, it can also lead to diabetes and obesity.

Cookies and Cupcakes

A lot of times, you don’t know exactly what ingredients were used to make the cookies and cupcakes that are brought to Halloween parties. One thing’s for sure though–these foods are not good for dogs. 

You can assume that there’s tons of sugar, butter, and fat in most cookies, cupcakes, and other baked goods made for Halloween. We’ve already talked about why sugar is bad for dogs. Then you have the butter, oils, and saturated fat that can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, and pancreatitis. There may also be toxic ingredients, like chocolate or macadamia nuts. 

What to Do if Your Dog Ate Food That’s Dangerous

If your dog was able to sneak some of these forbidden foods, the first step is to remain calm. Then check for these signs:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy (acting really tired; no energy)
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Excessive drooling (more than usual if your dog normally drools a lot)
  • Falling over/no coordination
  • Shaking

A little diarrhea may not seem like a big deal, but dogs can quickly become dehydrated, which leads to bigger issues. So if you think that your dog may have eaten something bad, or you saw them eat it, always call your vet. If your vet is not open, you can call an emergency vet or use an online vet chat or video chat service. You can also call:

*There are fees for these two hotlines to keep these services available to pet parents.

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