October Thoughts & Halloween Safety Tips

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

October brings with it relief from the hot and sometimes humid days of summer. Kids are back in school, the squirrels are stashing their winter food supply and the trees start to take on the colors of fall. Winter must be just around the corner. It’s probably a coincidence, but October seems to have its share of stock market fluctuations and with it comes concerns about retirement investments and balancing the family budget. Especially when reflecting on the October market crashes of 1987, 2001, 2008 and now apparently 2014 as well.

October also draws attention to numerous health topics including breast cancer (affecting dogs, cats and humans), pet preventive medicine and wellness. The American Cancer Society stages its Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October each year. Pet owners should be aware that spaying dogs and cats in a timely manner drastically reduces the occurrence of mammary tumors. Early detection through regular veterinary examinations is key to ensuring the best possible outcomes for your pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends pets have regular exams to promote preventive care, a principle commonly recognized as a way of maintaining lower costs and better health for your pets.

Late summer and early fall seem to be the months in many parts of the country that predispose our furry friends to flea bites, dermatitis, tick infestations, mites and fly strike for those who spend significant time outside. Fleas are abundant in the late summer and the animal’s immune system sometimes cannot keep pace with the allergens that abound from the bite of fleas. Incessant scratching and biting with red and irritated skin serves as a tip that pet owners should take their animals to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment for these conditions. This year seems to be a banner year for the presence of ticks. Remember, the black-legged tick (deer tick) is the carrier of the agent that causes Lyme disease in both dogs and humans. If you find ticks on your dog take him or her to your veterinarian for a test to check for Lyme disease. If the test comes back positive, then make an appointment for yourself and your family to be tested for Lyme disease.

The last day of October is always reserved for the festivities of Halloween. This celebration held the night before All Saints Day is a time when people, especially children, dress up in various designs of costumes masquerading as their favorite comic character or another popular figure. Halloween can bring significant stress to your dog or cat family members. Children who are “trick or treating” ring your doorbell or knock on the door to invite the homeowner to give them a “treat” or they will reward the household with a “trick”. This sometimes frequent doorbell ringing or knocking interrupts the daily routine of the pets in the family. Many dogs will run to the door barking at the revelers and cats may run and hide. If that scene plays out constantly over four or five hours, dogs can become hoarse from barking. Both dogs and cats can undergo high levels of stress over Halloween.

Pet owners should be aware of hazards that may occur with the celebrations of Halloween. Dogs and cats may take the opportunity to dart out of an open door running into the street to follow children, who are on a mission of gathering candy. A dog or cat can be hit by a car in this situation, so be careful to keep your pets safely inside on Halloween. Also, open doors that are filled with noisy, costumed children may cause an aggressive dog to bite if the child makes a sudden move toward the dog. Additionally, cats do scratch or bite when they feel they are threatened. Halloween visits almost always involve candy packaged in aluminum wrapping or other types of paper products. Both the candy in excess and the wrapper can cause trouble if the dog or cat gets too much of either. The caffeine in chocolate is toxic to dogs in large amounts, such as when they raid the candy stash that contains lots of candy from the night’s harvest. The wrapper, especially if aluminum, can block the digestive track of both dogs and cats. Veterinarians treat many of these cases across America each year.

Perhaps the safest place for your pets on Halloween is in a closed room with a television or stereo player on to block them from the busyness of Halloween revelers. It may save you time, money and heartache. The animals will appreciate it as well.