Scare Tactics: The Obligatory October Blog

[dog dressed as Coast Guard officer]The pressure to write an autumnal Halloween post regarding animals is intense. In a sense, I understand that the public wants to hear the hits. But doesn’t anyone want to read my small and carefully worded treatise on 1976’s children’s musical mafia masterpiece movie, Bugsy Malone? Or a simple reflection on how playing Hearts with one dog and two cats is the ideal with which all other forms of happiness should be compared? Yes. I understand my limitations to be understood. So in that regard:

There’s nothing bad about Halloween or this time of the year, and yet anyone who works in the veterinary world knows the inevitable problems this time of year brings into our everyday world, and I shall address all the obvious ones and a few not-so-obvious ones.


As someone who spends a great deal of my free and sleeping time thinking about candy, I completely understand why having a complete and quality selection of sweets available for your trick-or-treaters is integral to your obligation of being a good human.

Again, and also at the risk of revealing too much, as someone who thinks about the difference in peanut butter-to-chocolate ratios between normal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Pumpkin Halloween Cups, I get why you may want to plan early and be prepared to have more candy than any one house could possibly pass out in a 3- to 4-hour Halloween evening.

That being said, despite whatever you have heard, thought, or been told by your co-worker who swears that his Aunt’s dog loves candy, candy is toxic to dogs and can make cats very sick.

Chocolate can kill your dog, causing neurotoxicity and cardiovascular toxicity and, at a minimum, forcing dogs to be treated for severe gastrointestinal and pancreatic trauma.

A small dog can get sick (and die) from a small amount of candy. A big dog can also get sick from the amount of candy it can consume in short periods of time.

One moment away from the candy tray to compliment a few kids who have come to the door dressed as Star Wars Jedi (though inevitably with the wrong color light saber, not that I am paying attention), can give a dog, especially my dog, just enough time to destroy your night and cause a quick immediate trip to the emergency room.

Just because your dog ate chocolate once and didn’t get sick, doesn’t mean that it’s safe forever. And there are differences between eating 6 oz and 36 oz.

Join the billions of people who need to call ASCPA Poison Control if you need help. Or call us, if we are open. Or call your local friendly ER. Do this immediately.

If you want to go out and participate in Halloween with your child who has very specific tastes and forced you to stay up till 3 am on Halloween Eve again for the fifth straight year so you can make Tron’s light sequence on his costume perfect, or if you want to go out yourself dressed in the Midwest’s most popular Halloween costume (Sexy Raincoat-wearer), well, first take care of your animal.

Chocolate has a delayed reaction, so people will sometimes think if their dog seems fine after a few hours, that the dog will be fine. Often the worst effects happen at hour 6, 10, or 12.


Someone needs to stick up for people who want to dress their animals up in costumes. If your dog or cat had real agency, they’d break out of our houses and set up an equal and free society in an abandoned but warm warehouse somewhere in Pilsen. But they don’t. So dress them up, take a picture and just enjoy your day. If they don’t like that type of thing, then don’t. If you have a Pug and dress them up as Pugsy Malone, I would appreciate a photo. And, really, any photo.


Be attentive to your anxious dogs and cats. Doorbells ringing, witch decorations with electronic cackles, kids running around, people with “toy” guns (which in Chicago are just “guns”), screaming, flashing lights, and just general festivities can set tons of dogs and cats off in their angst-ridden misery.

Just like you do for 4th of July and New Year’s, feel free to ask for sedation protocols or anxiety medications, and it’s never a problem to pre-medicate for the subsequent GI upset and urinary discomfort that occurs from severe and acute trauma.

Maybe walk your dogs at 4 pm and then wait until 10 pm to avoid the rush. Maybe lock your cats upstairs so they can’t run out the front door.

And do you have a black cat? Well good, because I love them, but don’t let them outside. Actually, keep all your animals inside that night.

Call with questions or concerns. Send us your Halloween photos. Dress as your own ethnicity. Read books with first-person cat narrators.

Brett Grossman, DVM