By Dr. Becker
All Hallows' Eve is just a few days away, so it's time for my annual reminder to pet guardians to keep their furry family members safe on the holiday. This means taking just a few common-sense precautions to insure both you and your pet wake up healthy and happy on November 1st.
10 'C' Words to Watch for or Avoid on Halloween if You Have Pets
- Chocolate. Chocolate is toxic to both cats and dogs, and the darker the chocolate, the more toxic. It contains a caffeine-like stimulant substance that when ingested by your pet can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, racing pulse, and seizures. So make sure all your family members and guests, including children, understand the importance of keeping chocolate away from your dog or cat.
- Candy in general. Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of chocolate, but there are other types of sweets that also pose health risks for canine and feline companions, so a good rule of thumb is to keep ALL Halloween candy out of the reach of pets.
- Candy and other goodies containing xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is showing up in all kinds of products, including sugar-free candy, gum, mints, and baked goods. A small amount of xylitol can cause a rapid and dangerous blood sugar drop in dogs, as well as acute liver failure. Xylitol's effect on cats is not known, but I would recommend keeping it far away from kitties as well.
- Candy wrappers. Halloween candy isn't the only health threat for dogs and cats. Empty candy wrappers smell like what was in them, which can entice your pet, and ingestion of foil and cellophane wrappers can cause a life-threatening bowel obstruction requiring surgery. It's very important to stress to children in particular the need to keep all candy wrappers out of the reach of pets.
- Common Halloween non-candy treats. Some people like to hand out small boxes of raisins instead of candy on Halloween. Or small bags of trail mix that contain raisins. Unfortunately, raisins are toxic to dogs and cats and can potentially cause kidney failure in very small amounts. Chocolate covered raisins pose an even bigger risk.
- Complicated pet costumes. As adorable as they are, elaborate Halloween costumes can pose a danger to your pet's health. Depending on the outfit, the temperature, and your pet's coat, it's easier than you might think for him to overheat while all dressed up. Pets have also been injured when their range of motion, vision, or hearing is restricted by a costume, or when they try frantically to remove it. If you just can't resist dressing your four-legged ghost or goblin in a costume, select something lightweight to avoid overheating, and insure it doesn't confine or restrain his movements in any way.
- Candles. Candles, including the small ones inside Jack 'o lanterns, are fire hazards. You don't want your kitty wandering across a table or shelf decorated with lit candles, nor do you want your dog getting too friendly or feisty with a carved pumpkin with a candle inside. Make sure all these types of fire hazards are well beyond your pet's reach.
- Commotion of the holiday. Most holidays involve a bit of chaos and confusion – that's half the fun, right? For us it is, but for our furry companions, not so much. Even if your pet seems excited by all the noise and activity, excitement is a form of stress, especially for dogs and cats. That's why it's important to know when it's time to remove your pet from the action and tuck her away in a safe, quiet spot in your home (and that time could be before the festivities even begin).
- Choking hazards. Those pet costumes I mentioned above often come with buttons, bows, and other small accessories that can be pulled off and choked on or swallowed. This is another reason to keep things simple if you plan to dress up your pet. There are other Halloween-related items that also pose a choking danger, including, oddly enough, those glow sticks and glow jewelry that have become so popular. Cats in particular reportedly like to chew on them, which can present not only a choking hazard, but also a burn hazard if the phenol inside leaks out.
- Callers at the door. If your neighborhood tends to be full of trick-or-treaters, it's a good idea to make sure your pet can't escape through an open door or window, either to investigate all the activity, or to escape it. Many dogs and most cats find a constantly ringing doorbell, strange voices yelling "Trick or Treat," and people dressed up in scary costumes to be anxiety-producing. Kitties should probably be closed off in a bedroom or other safe area of the house for the night, and dogs should either be highly responsive to verbal commands, on a leash, or also tucked away in a secure location.