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Candy corn—those waxy, tri-colored triangles that suddenly appear in grocery store aisles and office candy jars the moment the first leaf of fall graces the ground—can be a contentious confection. People tend to love them or loathe them. But before you give your pup a chance to weigh in on the debate, another question must be answered first: Is candy corn safe for dogs?
According to Ginger Watts Brown, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian and director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, candy corn is one of several Halloween treats you should keep to yourself.
Is Candy Corn Safe for Dogs?
Whether or not you indulge in candy corn may be up for debate, but as for your dog, the answer is a definite no. The toxic trick in this Halloween treat is an ingredient called xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that's commonly used as a sweetener in sugar-free foods and candies (especially gum).
It may not sound like a sinister substance, but when eaten by dogs, xylitol can cause a sudden release of insulin that leads to a dangerous drop in blood sugar. This condition is known as hypoglycemia, and Brown says that signs include vomiting, lethargy, and loss of coordination. Another possible side effect of xylitol ingestion in dogs is liver damage due to an elevation in liver enzymes. Large enough doses of xylitol can even lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.
While you won't find xylitol in every brand of candy corn, instituting a complete ban on the treat and all of its iterations is the best way to ensure your pet's safety. That's because you often encounter the sugary kernels apart from their containers and their all-important list of ingredients, such as in candy dishes or treat bags (or in your dog's case, in the trash or a sidewalk crack).
Moreover, even if you double and triple-check that your candy corn is xylitol-free, it still isn't a safe treat for your four-legged friend. Its less nefarious ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, and oil can cause gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Candy Corn?
Despite our best efforts, accidents happen. If you catch your dog consuming candy corn, try to locate the treat's original container, if possible. Even if the ingredient list doesn't contain xylitol, its contents may be helpful later on.
If your dog isn't exhibiting any signs of illness, call ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661). These numbers will connect you with an expert like Brown who can help you determine if your pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian. (This is when that ingredient list can come in handy.)
Brown says it's important to note that signs of illness may not appear immediately. "While the drop in blood sugar can occur very quickly—as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion—it may take as long as 12 hours," she explains. "Signs of liver injury [e.g. loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, swollen abdomen] may not be seen for two or three days after ingestion."
If your dog starts showing signs of sickness, whether or not they match what's listed for hypoglycemia or liver damage, it's time to take your pet to the vet (and bring the product packaging if you can). The ASPCA notes that with proper veterinary care, most dogs recover from xylitol poisoning.
Is All Candy Bad for Dogs?
When it comes to candy, Brown's advice is simple and sweeping: "Make sure all candy is out of paw's reach, and keep an extra eye on pets during the Halloween season." In addition to keeping your Halloween hoard secure, you'll want to ensure it isn't possible for your dog to do any dangerous dumpster diving in the kitchen trash can. And if you have kids, be sure to explain why sharing isn't caring when it comes to candy.
Here are some reasons why these steps are so important:
Digestive issues: Human candy isn't made for canine stomachs, and large amounts of sugar and other sweeteners and oils can lead to gastrointestinal pain, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting. And if your dog downs enough gum, hard candies, and/or candy wrappers and sticks, they could also be in danger of developing an intestinal obstruction.
Choking hazards: All of the items that can cause an obstruction in your dog's intestines can also obstruct their airway.
If you'd like to treat your pet this spooky season, you can give them something that's sugar-free but still super sweet: your time and attention! With shorter, cooler days upon us, it can be beneficial for both you and your pet to make bonding and play a priority.