Personal Finance

3 Halloween pet hazards that can lead to scary vet bills

Key Points
  • Cases related to chocolate toxicity and other food poisoning jump 140 percent in the weeks bracketing Halloween, according to the Petplan insurance company.
  • The average food poisoning vet bill is $1,100.
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During this year's Halloween celebrations, make sure you're not setting yourself up for a truly frightening pet-related bill.

Veterinarians often see an uptick in emergency visits around Halloween. Insurer Petplan says the number of claims related to chocolate toxicity and other kinds of food poisoning have jumped as much as 140 percent in the weeks bracketing Halloween, compared with an average week. The dollar amount of those claims trends 33 percent pricier, too, at an average $1,100. (That's if you don't have pet insurance.)

"Unfortunately, this is still a big and growing problem," said Dr. Jennifer Maniet, staff veterinarian for Petplan. "Our pets just love to pick things off the ground, and sometimes we notice and sometimes we don't."

Given that a quarter of Americans don't have any emergency savings, an unexpected bill of several hundred dollars (or even several thousand) is a pretty scary prospect. Watch out for these three common holiday hazards:

Halloween candy

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Potential bill: An average $830 for food poisoning, says Petplan. (During the weeks bracketing Halloween, that average is a $1,100.)

There are plenty of dangerous goodies in your kid's trick-or-treating haul.

All candy has sugar and fat, which can be problematic for pets in large doses, Maniet said. But the big three to worry about are chocolate, sugar-free candies containing xylitol and anything with raisins. Those can have severe side effects such as seizures and organ failure, she said.

Many factors go into what constitutes a toxic dose of chocolate for your pet, including the type of chocolate and the weight of your pet, Maniet said. But given the quantities of candy accessible at Halloween, it's better to play it safe and head to the vet if you suspect your pet has gotten into the candy bowl.

"It always seems to turn out that they ate more than we thought they did," she said.

Costumes and decor

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Potential bill: An average $1,872 for foreign body ingestion, says Petplan.

Odds are good the humans in your family aren't the only ones dressing up. According to the National Retail Federation, 16 percent of consumers say their pets will be sporting a Halloween costume this year. The most popular choice: a pumpkin.

The risk is that a curious pet might see the garb as more feast than festive, especially if there are dangling pieces like pompoms or a bow tie, Maniet said. (The risk also extends to your costume, and decorations your pet might encounter at home or celebrations elsewhere.)

"Pets love to explore the world by ingesting things, unfortunately," she said. Keep a close eye.

Seasonal scares

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Potential bills: An average $641 for lacerations or cuts, $947 for bite wounds from other pets and $1,175 for fractures, according to Petplan; $500-plus for a homeowners liability claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

It's tough to predict how pets will react to potential frights such as costumed individuals showing up in waves at the front door or another costumed pet along your trick-or-treating route, Maniet said. A panicked pet could lash out or injure itself attempting to flee.

"The best thing to do is avoidance," she said.

If you're waiting for trick-or-treaters at home, consider crating your pet or sequestering it in a room away from the festivities. Going out? Leash or harness your pet so it can't slip away.

"If you do decide to take your pet out to go trick-or-treating, add reflectors to your pet's leash harness or costume so people can see them," Maniet said.

But the scariest bill of the lot is one you could face if your spooked pet injures a party guest or trick-or-treater. Bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than a third of homeowners liability claim payouts in 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The average: $33,230.

"You could open yourself up to a huge lawsuit," said Loretta Worters, a vice president with the institute.

Check the details of your policy, and have a conversation with your agent about your pet, said Worters. Coverage can vary substantially. Your portion of the bill could be as little as your deductible (often, $500 to $1,000), or more.

Dog-bite liability is often capped at lower limits, and policy details may exclude certain breeds or pets that have previously bitten someone. But some insurers also offer discounts or friendlier terms for pets that have been through training, she said.