Bags upon bags and buckets of candy, some of it squirreled away in unlikely places that only a dog or a child could possibly find: Halloween can be a pretty scary holiday for pet owners. Cats rarely stoop to candy ingestion, but dogs routinely fall prey to their sweet tooth. This could have disastrous results, as you probably know.


The most threatening villain is actually sugarless candy that’s sweetened with xylitol, because it only takes a portion of a package to have dire consequences. You won’t be able to easily identify xylitol-containing candy or its concentration, but sugarless gums and mints are especially common culprits. It’s much less frequently included in conventional Halloween candies like chocolate bars and cheap suckers, but it only takes a tiny bit to kill. If you suspect that your dog ingested sugarless gum or mints, just go straight to the vet.


It takes a lot more chocolate to hurt a dog, but there’s a lot more of it around. Many chocolate bars are diluted by the presence of peanuts, peanut butter, caramel, nougat, and other non-toxic substances. These ingredients can make your dog very sick, but they are not poisonous per se. Furthermore, virtually all Halloween chocolates are composed of milk chocolate, which is the least toxic variety (aside from “white chocolate”, which is not chocolate at all). The toxicity level of chocolate products increases greatly with darkness and bitterness, so the most dangerous items for your dog—unsweetened chocolate and baking cocoa—are actually found on your pantry shelf and not in your candy bucket. These products are 10-20 times more toxic. Nonetheless, a pound or so of regular milk chocolate could make your 40-pound dog seriously ill.


We expect to see dogs begin suffering from significant chocolate poisoning at around 5 oz. of undiluted milk chocolate per 20 lbs. of dog. If your 20-lb. dog ate 3 oz. of peanut butter cups, you are well below the danger level, especially since most of this is peanut butter, sugar, and fat. If you’re able to rapidly ascertain that the amount of chocolate consumed by your dog was below the danger level, you can breathe a relative sigh of relief and get set for the gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) that awaits the dog who’s gorged on peanuts, sugar, fat, corn syrup, and all the attendant chemicals.


If the candy ingested was near—or above—the danger level, quickly find and check the pet. One hopes to find copious amounts of vomit, because the possibility exists that most of the toxic material is damaging your carpet rather than your dog. If the pet is acting weird at all, it’s straight to the vet. If she seems well despite the missing chocolate, call your emergency service. They may offer you some advice on making her vomit up the poison. Memorize the milk chocolate danger zone of 5 oz. per 20 lbs. of dog and hide every scrap of candy out of reach. Hopefully you will never need to use this Halloween rule of thumb.


Dr. M.S. Regan