Halloween and Your Pets

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

Halloween and Your Pets

Until moving to the desert environment of the Southwest, it was always easy to identify when it was the season for Halloween because the leaves were beginning to turn orange or yellow and the frost began to accumulate on the pumpkins. Now that I have left the Midwest with its tell-tale signs of the seasons, I must rely on yard decorations that include witches, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and skeletons to tip me off that Halloween is just around the corner. Yes, it is that time of year again when goblins and dress-up look a-likes invade our front doors trick or treating. This is a joyous and thrilling time of year for the children and many adults; however, it can create a lot of stress and anxiety for many of our pets. A constant ringing of the doorbell and strangely dressed people appearing when the door is opened, with lots of scary costumes and elevated and unusual noises, can stress out many dogs and cats. It is not unusual for pets, especially dogs, to exhibit physical signs of stress through vomiting, diarrhea, barking and unexpected fearful aggression. Some will even bite when stressed, although it is an uncommon behavioral characteristic for that dog under normal circumstances. Cats may also have vomiting and diarrhea although they are more likely to run from the scene and hide. It is best to place these stressed pets in a closed, quiet room with a television or stereo playing to distract them. A synthetic hormone product called Felway can be sprayed on the pets and around the room to help relieve their anxiety. You might also provide your pets with a long-lasting, treat-dispensing toy to keep them entertained during the height of the trick-or-treat activities. You can buy these products at most pet supply stores. For pets with severe anxiety levels during the intrusion of swarms of trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, it may be necessary to consult your veterinarian about anti-anxiety or tranquillizing drugs. If you are unfortunately blessed with one of these pets that has a severe reaction to the activities of Halloween, you should take the pet to the veterinarian before the festivities begin to maximize the effects of calming medications.

It is best to keep your pets indoors during this time of year. Halloween pranks against pets can be vicious, especially if your cat happens to be a black cat. People, even younger children, are more likely to take actions against a pet on Halloween that is induced by the group mentality, and would not be a consideration at any other time of year. You must be careful that your pet does not dart out of the door when the doorbell rings and the door is opened to greet them, and a group of costumed strangers present themselves with loud revelry. Dogs and cats are subject to being hit by cars or other vehicles while under stress and confusion. They may not react to traffic as they normally would if a group of costumed trick-or-treaters approach them on the other side of the street. It is imperative that your pet has proper identification in case they do break the barriers of the house or yard. I prefer that all pets be microchipped with a standard chip inserted by a veterinary professional and the information regarding the pet’s name and contact information be kept updated with the company registry database. If your pet is going to have the opportunity to go outside during Halloween, it is also best to have a collar with identification information immediately accessible by neighbors and the people who are outside celebrating Halloween. These good Samaritans may save you a trip to the animal hospital or animal shelter to retrieve your confused dog or cat by bringing them home.

It is not a good idea to take your dog trick or treating with you. Dogs who live at the residence where you go may be protective of their domain and charge out of the house and fight with the visiting dog. Dog fights are difficult to break-up under any circumstances, let alone when one is dressed in a Halloween costume complete with a full head mask. Also, dogs get excited when encountering other groups of revelers, especially if they too have a dog, and charge into the street not respecting the presence of vehicles as they would under normal circumstances. Veterinarians treat dogs that have been hit by a car every year during the Halloween season.

Halloween visits in the neighborhood almost always involves candy or other “treats” that are wrapped in paper, aluminum foil, string, or other wrapping materials. Both the candy, if allowed in excess, and the wrapper can be a threat to the pet’s health if not controlled by the adults in charge of monitoring the Halloween activities. Every year veterinarians treat dogs and cats that have swallowed candy wrappers, lollypop sticks, peanut hulls and a host of other items that may make the pet sick or create an intestinal blockage that requires veterinary intervention. Toxic materials such as xylitol that is used as an artificial sweetener in baked goods, chewing gum and other products are highly toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in higher doses can cause heart beat abnormalities, tremors, and possibly seizures. The darker the chocolate the more toxic the contents may be. It is never a good idea to allow dogs or cats to access marijuana or opioid products. With the legalization of marijuana in many states, the incidence of marijuana toxicity has increased significantly in those localities. Baked products that contain raisins, currants and grapes can result in kidney failure in dogs. Small quantities of alcohol consumed by pets can cause vomiting, incoordination, confusion, and seizures in most pets if given in enough quantity. Remember, a 20-pound dog or a 5-pound cat cannot tolerate and process more than a small quantity of alcoholic beverages. You must protect against your pet gaining access to garbage while out trick-or-treating with the family as coffee grounds and coffee beans can also be dangerous for pets. Most garbage can contain toxic bacteria such as Salmonella or coliform bacteria that can cause digestive distress, vomiting and diarrhea. If you suspect your pet has gotten into a potentially poisonous substance, call your veterinarian immediately. Have the telephone number to your local emergency animal hospital readily available, as well as the number for the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 or 888-426-4435.

Pet costumes have become a universal fad during Halloween. Approximately one in seven people who dress up and celebrate Halloween include costumes for their pets according to a survey sponsored by the National Retail Foundation. Most have already purchased a costume for their pets this year, and the most popular costumes appear to change each year. Perpetual favorite costumes for the little furry ones are Star Wars and cute yellow Minion outfits. And, it isn’t at all uncommon for pets to be adorned with princess outfits that were worn by the real Princess in the family in years prior. There is always a wide array of homemade pet costumes that might include top hats, sunglasses, bow ties and jewelry. Other popular pet costumes include hot dog outfits, Batman, Bumble Bee, and an assortment of other characters of the past and present. If you dress your pet in a costume, be sure that it doesn’t interfere with the pet’s ability to breathe, see, hear, move, or bark. The clothing that makes up the costume for Halloween can present problems for pets if not managed properly. Strings and tassels on costumes can become play toys for cats and puppies. Cats especially like to chew on these items and may get complications from the dyes in the clothing or intestinal blockage from swallowing the strings and buttons. Glow sticks that make up part of the costumes of children during Halloween are fine; however, the material inside the glow stick is caustic and can burn the mouths of dogs and cats that bite into them. It is important to keep these items out of reach from your pet. Halloween can be a fun and enjoyable time for all family members, including the pets if certain precautions are taken. Don’t put a reluctant pet into a Halloween costume. Some pets don’t mind a few Halloween accessories, but don’t force an anxious animal into an outfit. Always make sure they can see, hear, and breathe freely. Be sure to give your pet occasional treats when wearing a Halloween costume to make him more willing to cooperate during the celebration. Halloween is a family event and it makes good sense that the furry family members would be dressed up for Halloween as well and participate in the fun. Just make sure you protect them from harm. One pet clothing boutique that has an online presence where one can shop for various Halloween costumes and pet wear is, Barker and Meowsky: A Paw Firm at http://www.barkerandmeowsky.com.

Halloween can be a fun and enjoyable time for all family members, including the pets, if certain precautions are taken. Halloween can bring stress to all of us, and pets are no exception. When routines are disrupted, and new activities occur, your pet may be affected the most. Plan and take necessary precautions to protect your pets from the hazards of Halloween. Your pets will appreciate it if the stress is minimized and the trips to the animal hospital will save both time and money.

Please watch this short video made by Dr. Ron DeHaven, former executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association:

Bruce W. Little, DVM