Q:Our family loves Halloween. Any tips for keeping our dog and cat safe during the holiday commotion?
A: Americans spend something like $7 billion on Halloween costumes, candy and decorations annually — including more than $300 million on pet costumes. While humans of all ages have lots of spooky fun on Halloween, it may be less fun for pets. In fact, Halloween can be downright dangerous. Here are some sensible precautions.
Pets can smell wrapped candy, even sealed in plastic bags. If they can smell it, they’ll try to eat it, wrappers and all. No candy is good for them. Chocolate, especially dark or baking chocolate, can be highly toxic to dogs and cats. Same goes for candy made with the artificial sweetener xylitol. So keep candy where it’s out of their reach.
If you think your pet has eaten something toxic, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 right away. Fast action could save your pet’s life.
Some animals may try to eat decorations — especially pumpkins or objects incorporating actual corn. These can cause upset stomachs or even more serious digestive blockage, so keep pets and decorations apart. Hang decorations up high, out of reach. Place wires and power cords where they won’t be chewed. Be especially careful with lighted candles. Curious animals can get burned or knock them over and cause a fire.
Trick or treat
Kids ringing doorbells all evening can drive dogs and cats a little crazy. Dogs may bark their heads off, cats may run and hide — and any pet may dart out an open door. Put your pets in a quiet room far from your front door; put up a baby gate or close the door; turn on the TV or music to cover doorbell noise. If you can’t put your pets in a safe room, then make sure they’re on leashes during peak trick-or-treat times. Just in case of escape, make sure your pets are wearing collars with current identification tags and have ID microchips.
If the weather is nice, take a chair out in front of your home, sit with your bowl of candy for the kids and enjoy the parade. This saves costumed kids the trouble of climbing your front steps and saves your pets the ordeal of constant doorbell ringing.
Kids in costumes can be frightening to many dogs. Dog trainer Howard Weinstein at Dayonedogtraining.com says, “Only dogs who are completely unflappable should be outside with you on Halloween, and only on a leash. If your dog is very calm and well-trained, take along a hefty supply of dog treats. Ask your dog to sit and stay to greet trick-or-treaters, and be careful that you’re only rewarding calm behavior.”
Weinstein adds a reminder that some kids, especially young ones, can be pretty stressed by Halloween, too, and may find dog encounters scary or intimidating. “If you’re unsure how your dog might react, don’t take chances — leave him in the house,” he says.
If you decide to dress up your pet, only do so if your pet doesn’t mind. Some are OK with it; others hate it. Make sure pet costumes don’t impede their breathing, movement, hearing or vision. Let your pet get accustomed to a costume by putting it on for short practice periods weeks before the big day. And if wearing a costume upsets your pet, skip it.
While Halloween is great fun for most of us, it’s also a holiday that sadly brings out the worst in some people who get sick kicks from being cruel to animals. Black cats are a main target, but any pet may be at risk. Pets shouldn’t be left out alone in yards at any time, but especially not during the Halloween season. Outdoor cats should be kept indoors for the week leading up to and following Halloween.
As a last resort, for dogs and cats that are highly stressed by Halloween despite all these precautions, ask your veterinarian for suggestions on herbal calming remedies or mild tranquilizers.