Joan Merriam: Halloween hazards |

Joan Merriam: Halloween hazards

Cooler temperatures — and pumpkins piled high in front of almost every store — are sure signs that autumn is officially upon us. And with October comes that favorite American holiday: Halloween.

So what does Halloween have to do with dogs? Other than getting them dressed up in some humiliating Darth Vader or Princess Bride costume which you’ll of course immortalize in dozens of equally humiliating photos?

Turns out, the holiday has a surprising amount to do with dogs. Specifically, their lives.

You may be one of those pet parents who likes to give your four-footed companions human goodies like candy and cookies. The danger comes when those sweet treats contain chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts or the sugar substitute xylitol.

Before you go to bed on Halloween night, make sure that gooey brownie, the oatmeal-raisin-macadamia nut cookie, or the sugar-free candy are well out of reach of any counter-surfing canine.

Let’s look at each ingredient:


As little as eight ounces of milk chocolate or one ounce of dark baker’s chocolate can put a 50 pound dog in serious health crisis which can even lead to death. Think of it this way: the darker it is, the more dangerous it is.

White chocolate, for instance, is far less toxic than dark chocolate; unsweetened cocoa powder is the most toxic of all. Symptoms can range from vomiting, increased thirst, stomach pain, and restlessness to severe agitation, tremors, irregular heartbeat, fever and death.

Raisins (and grapes)

Think the oatmeal-raisin cookies you baked for your Halloween party would be a healthy treat for your dog? Think again. Grapes and raisins have been associated with fatal kidney failure in some dogs, although the exact cause isn’t clear. Your pup may be one who can eat these fruits with no problem at all, or could be among those who develop life-threatening problems after eating just a few grapes or raisins. Unless you’re willing to take a chance with your dog’s life, it’s better to be safe and keep these fruits out of reach.

Macadamia nuts

While most nuts aren’t harmful to dogs, macadamias are the exception. Macadamia nut toxicosis is very seldom fatal in dogs, but it can make your pup extremely uncomfortable. Affected dogs are in obvious pain, show weakness in their rear legs, develop tremors, and can run a low grade fever for up to two days. Unlike the dire prognosis for a dog who’s eaten a bagful of Hershey’s kisses or two dozen raisin cookies, most dogs who’ve eaten macadamia nuts will gradually improve in a few days.


Xylitol is one of the truckload of low-cal sweeteners found in dozens of foods today. The most common item containing xylitol is sugar-free gum, though it’s also used in sugar-free candies, cookies and cakes, and many dental products such as mouthwash, toothpaste and breath mints. I doubt you’ll be getting toothpaste in your Halloween goodie-bag, but sugar-free gum or candy could very well be on the menu.

If as a human you eat too much of a food containing xylitol, the worst that can happen would be a bad case of diarrhea. In dogs, however, xylitol can lead to a critical drop in blood sugar levels, which can lead to disorientation, seizures, vomiting and in some cases fatal liver failure.

If you think your dog has eaten anything containing chocolate, raisins or grapes, macadamia nuts, or xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Halloween — when we’re not isolating from one another — can also be a scary time for your pets. Imagine yourself as a dog, and when the doorbell rings suddenly standing there is one or more fearsome, weird-looking creatures that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the humans you’re accustomed to seeing. Depending upon your temperament, your first reaction could be anywhere between stark terror and vicious attack. Either one signals major problems for you and your human caretaker.

This “virtual” Halloween doesn’t pose the same hazards, but in a normal year the best idea is to put your dog in the back yard or better yet, in another room with the door closed so he won’t be exposed to the ghoulies and ghosties.

Finally, before you go to bed on Halloween night, make sure that gooey brownie, the oatmeal-raisin-macadamia nut cookie, or the sugar-free candy are well out of reach of any counter-surfing canine.

Happy Halloween!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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