By Dr. Becker
Halloween is among the most popular holidays in the U.S. — for humans, not necessarily for their pets. An influx of costumed visitors, treats that may be poisonous to pets and restrictive pet costumes make Halloween a day filled with more stress than fun for many pets.
If you’re thinking of letting your pet join in on your Halloween festivities, there are ways to do so safely, starting with making sure your pet doesn’t get lost. If you’re planning to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, you’ll be opening up your door many times during the course of the night.
Catching a glimpse of all those witches and ghosts may spook even normally calm pets, causing them to bolt out the door. It’s a good idea to keep your pet in a separate room during the peak trick-or-treating hours.
If you have a very social, obedient dog, you may consider letting him greet the trick-or-treaters with you, but even then keeping him on a leash, and being sure his collar contains updated identification, will ensure he stays safe.
As an aside, Halloween is not a good night to leave your pets unattended outdoors, where they could become victims to someone’s Halloween pranks or more sinister crimes. Black cats are especially vulnerable to cruelty and pranks on Halloween (and in the days just before and after).
Some Halloween Treats Are Toxic to Pets
Many people leave out a big bowl of candy near their front door to hand out to trick-or-treaters. Avoid this if you have pets, or you may find them helping themselves to this holiday candy buffet.
Unfortunately, even small amounts of chocolate can be dangerous to pets, with dark chocolate and baking chocolate posing a greater risk than milk chocolate. Dogs are most at risk, as they tend to like sweet foods and metabolize theobromine, a stimulant in cocoa, very slowly.
Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning may not appear for several hours after ingestion. However, the onset of symptoms usually occurs within four to five hours.
Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, elevated body temperature, increased reflex responses, rigid muscles, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, a drop in blood pressure and seizures. In very serious cases, there can be weakness, coma, cardiac failure and death.
Just a small amount of xylitol can cause a dangerous insulin surge and a rapid drop in blood sugar. Vomiting, weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, liver failure and death can also occur.
Keep any and all Halloween candies safely away from pets, and if you suspect yours has eaten an unsafe treat, get your pet to an emergency veterinary clinic immediately and/or call a pet poison control hotline without delay.
Keep in mind, also, that even empty candy wrappers pose a danger to pets. They smell like candy, making them tempting to eat, but ingesting them may lead to a life-threatening bowel obstruction. So be sure candy wrappers are disposed of in a pet-proof garbage can.
Skip the Costume for Your Pet
It may be tempting to dress up your dog or cat for Halloween, but many pets are stressed out by wearing costumes and rightfully so. The costume may restrict your pet’s movement or interfere with his ability to bark, meow or even breathe normally.
Some costumes also contain small pieces that your pet could chew off and choke on. Others contain dangling cords that pose a strangulation hazard.
If you do intend to put a costume on your pet, make sure, first and foremost, that your pet enjoys wearing clothes. Then make sure it’s lightweight and fits properly and only leave it on for a short period of time and under close supervision. Any small or dangling parts should be removed.
If it’s cool outside and your pet enjoys wearing sweaters, a festive Halloween sweater makes a safer alternative. A special Halloween collar or bandana will also let your pet take part in the festivities without being uncomfortable.
Additional Halloween Hazards for Pets
Seemingly innocuous Halloween items around your home can be dangerous to pets. Among them:
• Candles: Lit candles (on counters or in a your jack-o-lantern) can be easily knocked over by pets, posing a fire risk. Pets, especially cats and kittens, may also be burned if they try to play with a candle flame.
Many holiday candles are made with poor-quality ingredients that off-gas toxic fumes the whole family is exposed to.
• Decorations: Decorative corn and pumpkins may cause stomach upset if your pets chew them and may lead to intestinal blockage if your pet ingests large pieces.
• Glow sticks: The liquid inside glow sticks is bad-tasting and may cause your pet to salivate excessively. The substance that creates the glow is phenol, which can leak out and burn your pet's fur and tongue. The plastic casing also poses a choking hazard.
In addition, the holiday may lead to changes in your pet’s routine, which can cause normally laid-back pets to become anxious, scared or even aggressive. If you know your pet tends to become fearful, take extra precautions to make your pet feel safe on Halloween night.