Halloween has passed, the harvest season is near, and the hams and turkeys are prominently on display at the local grocers. Before you can say "Razzleberry Dressing," the winter holidays will be here.
And while the two-legged among us will do all we can to avoid over-indulging in the meats, sweets, and treats associated with countless winter festivities, it's also a good time to think about preventative measures to take to keep your four-legged family members safe and well.
Along with a staff of nearly 30 veterinary doctors boarded in toxicology, and some 60 veterinary technicians, Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, says the usual 400-500 daily calls received in the poison control center increases in volume by about 10 percent during the holidays.
"Chocolate [ingested by dogs] is the number one call we get," Wismer said. "It's a really popular gift." And while you may not know what's in that pretty gift wrapped box you received from a co-worker or friend, when placed under the tree at just the perfect level for a roving snout, your dog will not hesitate to rip open the package to sample the contents.
According to Wismer, the severity of your pooch's reaction to eating chocolate "depends on what type [of chocolate] and how much. The darker the chocolate, the more poisonous it is." So a 20-pound dog that eats 8 ounces of milk chocolate may end up sick, but just 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate or a scant 1.5 ounces of baker's chocolate can land your pet in the emergency room. Worse yet, just a half-ounce of cocoa powder can cause seizures.
Wismer also noted that the changing American palate for more sophisticated chocolate, with its varying degrees of cacao (or "cacao mass"), makes this problem even more prevalent.
So what's a pet owner to do? First, use caution when baking those Toll House cookies or brownies, and ensure that chocolate candy kisses are stashed well out of reach of curious paws. An ounce of prevention literally goes a long way to keeping your pet safe from harmful toxins.
And what if despite all of your attempts to keep your dog safe, it gets to the chocolate anyway? "Give your vet a call." Wismer said. Be ready to give them your dog's weight, the approximate amount of chocolate eaten, and be sure to disclose any other health conditions your pet may have so the vet can make a quick assessment of the situation. Solutions will range from simply watching your pet for signs of distress, to inducing vomiting (only when ordered by a vet), or bringing your pet in for treatment right away.
Wismer says while cats don't usually share the same affinity for sweets as dogs, chocolate can pose a potential danger for felines as well. To be safe, keep candy and other confectionery treats in places where your pets can't get to them.

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Other people-foods (and ingredients) to avoid giving your pets:
Alcohol -- While most pet parents wouldn't think of getting their pets tipsy intentionally, accidents happen. Or as Wismer put it, "Dogs will clean up after the party and finish all the drinks." Just a little spill of alcohol lapped up by an excited pet can cause anything from vomiting and diarrhea to the death of a pet.
Candy -- Before you break open that leftover two-pound bag of candy corn that you're hoping to get rid of between Halloween and Thanksgiving, beware. "Treats like candy corn and gummy bears pull water into a dog's digestive track and messes up their electrolytes," Wismer said, resulting in things like muscle tremors and even seizures.
Ham -- Its just meat, right? Dogs -- and some cats -- love a little extra protein, and who isn't tempted to pass off a little piece of greasy goodness when being stared down with sad puppy eyes. But beware of the high fat content. While it's not poisonous, it can cause some distress and even lead to pancreatitis.
Macadamia Nuts -- That lovely box of macadamias you were gifted with after your relatives returned from their holiday trip to Hawaii can actually cause hind limb weakness or even paralysis in your pup. "This is just a dog thing with macadamia nuts," Wismer said. "The hind weakness or paralysis is temporary and usually goes away in 24 hours, but it can be quite scary."
Turkey -- We all know that poultry bones are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs when treating pets to table scraps. A bit of lean turkey meat is fine, but just like ham, you want to avoid giving your pet fatty bits or turkey skin. "It's much fattier than what they're used to," Wismer said.
And what is the number one thing a pet should never, ever be given from the holiday dining table (or kitchen)? Wismer says its xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in many products, including gum, mints, and candy. It's also available powder form for baking at home. When ingested, xylitol can cause seizures and even liver failure in your pet.
For a comprehensive list of foods to avoid giving your pets, visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, or call (888) 426-4435.