On Halloween, it may seem like a lot of fun to jump out in a scary costume and shout “boo!” though most of us know who’s underneath it. Pets are different, however, and dressing up beyond recognition can cause a cat to panic and run for cover (or streak out the door) or cause a dog to act aggressively to defend himself and his family. Experts say even the most tolerant dog can find this kind of activity stressful, overwhelming, and difficult to comprehend and handle. The following ideas from the ASPCA, HSUS, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) on Halloween pet safety will help ensure the holiday remains enjoyable and safe for all species.
Pet Halloween Safety Tips
1. Skip the costumes
As a rule, dressing pets up in costumes can cause a lot of discomfort and stress, according to the ASPCA, as animals do not naturally wear clothing. If you choose to do so, take extra care that the costume is not restrictive in terms of movement, breathing, hearing, barking or meowing, and that there are no strings, ropes, sashes, ribbons, or the like in which they may become entangled, or pieces they can chew off, swallow and/or choke. And do not force your pet to remain in a costume if she is clearly panicked or distressed or showing abnormal behavior in any way. Signs of these include, though are not limited to, ears folded back or down; eyes looking off to the side, back or down; a tucked tail; hunching over; frequent shuddering; and shaking of head and body, as if shaking off water.
2. Wear the ID
Pets should always wear an identification collar and be microchipped, but on a day or night when the door may be opened repeatedly and a harried pet can escape, make extra sure identification is up to date.
3. Keep them indoors!
It’s also best to keep pets, especially cats, indoors while people are out trick-or-treating. Confine animals in a quiet den or bedroom with a favorite toy or treat and some water (or a crate with the same if it is familiar and he considers it his safe place), and with soft – not blaring – music. While the goal is to mitigate the constant commotion at the door, loud music will only stress your pet. An isolated room will help calm him and make sure he cannot run outside when you may be handing out candy.
4. Watch those flames
There’s nothing that says Halloween like a scary Jack-O-Lantern with a flickering candle inside. Just make sure it is out of reach of curious dogs or cats who may accidentally knock it over and become burned and/or start a fire. The same rule applies to decorations, which may be ingested or puncture paws if not placed out of reach.
5. No-no on the cocoa
Chocolate candy contains theobromine, which is toxic to dogs and cats. Pet parents should be vigilant about monitoring and putting away bags of trick-or-treat goodies. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in some candies and gums, can be fatal if ingested by a pet. Lollipop sticks and candy wrappers can become choking hazards or obstructions.
6. Trick-or-treating is no treat
Experts say even if you are tempted to take your dog trick-or-treating with you, it’s best to reconsider. In the dark, dogs can step on broken glass, firecrackers, sharp objects from costumes, or other Halloween party debris. Also, with trick-or-treaters dressed in frightening masks and costumes, and making a lot of noise as is customary, this can shift your pet into anxious guard mode which is highly stressful for her and even dangerous for all involved.
For a safe, fun, and uneventful celebration (who wants to spend the evening at the vet emergency hospital?), keeping your pet safe and feeling secure with these easy steps will make for a Happy Halloween for the whole family.
Beth Herman is a freelance writer with interests in healthy living and food, family, animal welfare, architecture and design, religion, and yoga. She writes for a variety of national and regional publications, institutions, and websites.