TRICK OR TREAT!! Halloween is an annual event that most children, and lots of adults, look forward to enthusiastically, anticipating a day and evening filled with masks, candy, and pranks! But this holiday can be particularly spooky for the furry children in your family. To make Halloween fun for all of your family members, take note of these Halloween safety tips for your pet.
“No tricks, no treats” is the best Halloween plan for your dog."
Leave your pet at home
“No tricks, no treats” is the best Halloween plan for your dog. That may not sound like fun for your dog, but if your neighborhood is particularly busy on Halloween and the sidewalks are overflowing with exuberant parents and screaming children, it is best to leave your pet at home. Why expose him to the chaos and risk upsetting him?
You may be thinking, “Fido loves kids and knows this neighborhood like the back of his paw!” Even kid-loving dogs, intimately familiar with their normal exercise route, can be thrown off by extra people on the street and may become agitated. Scary-looking costumed humans that approach for a friendly pat on the head may frighten your dog. This fear reaction can be unsettling for dogs and downright dangerous for trick or treaters. Scared dogs, even the nicest ones, may growl and bite when they feel threatened.
"If you do decide to venture out with your dog, make sure he is on a secure leash."
If you do decide to venture out with your dog, make sure he is on a secure leash. Keep him close to you (no retractable leashes) at all times. Be vigilant as you observe your surroundings and assess people approaching you. Guard against friendly, excited children who want to pet your dog. Too much physical contact from strangers who do not look like normal humans, combined with the natural desire to protect his owner, can instigate an aggressive reaction from dogs.
Just because your dog stays home does not mean he can’t participate in Halloween. Lots of pets wear costumes. Just remember that it is important for 2- and 4-footed children to wear comfortable, safe clothing. Costumes should be loose enough to provide freedom of movement, but not loose enough to trip up little feet. On the other hand, costumes that are too tight can restrict breathing and make movements difficult. Make sure that your pet’s costume does not interfere with his vision or hearing.
"Costumes should be loose enough to provide freedom of movement...[and] not interfere with his vision or hearing."
Also, beware of small parts, like buttons or loose strings, that can be chewed off and swallowed. Steer clear of any hair dyes or paints that your pet could lick off their fur, because they may become toxic if ingested. Check the label of any such product to ensure it is non-toxic if you absolutely must use it. Lots of pet owners opt for Halloween-themed bandanas as a safe, yet stylish, way for your pet to celebrate the holiday.
Provide your pet with a calm, secure area to stay
Dogs that stay at home are not always fans of the neighborhood candy hunt. The doorbell constantly rings and strangers in weird costumes invade their domain. Too many sights! Too many smells! Too many sounds! Even dogs that normally love children can be thrown off by the constant ring of the doorbell or knocking, the sheer number of visitors, and the weird appearance of their human friends! Yesterday, Billy from next door was in play clothes with a smile on his sweet face; tonight, he is a scary pirate. That can be difficult for your dog to process and it may be difficult for him to recognize normally familiar faces.
"Even dogs that normally love children can be thrown off by the constant ring of the doorbell or knocking, the sheer number of visitors, and the weird appearance of their human friends"
So many people invading your dog’s territory can be problematic. This “strange” looking person is trespassing on their home turf, which automatically sets off your dog’s protective canine defense mechanism. Then the strange-looking person gets close to you (your dog’s favorite person) as he reaches for candy, which further heightens your dog’s defensive tendencies. What happens if Fido gets so protective, scared, or nervous that he barks, growls, or even snaps at Billy?
Unless your dog is extremely mellow, let him rest in a room away from the frenzy with the door closed. Turn on a TV, radio, or white noise machine to dull the sound of the doorbell and exuberant trick or treaters. Or better yet, pre-empt the doorbell by sitting outside and intercepting children before they reach your front door.
Secure any potential escape routes
If your dog stays with you and is calmly greeting the trick or treaters, keep him safely on leash. That way he cannot dart out the door after the visitors and you have control over his movements, in case something triggers an aggressive action.
"If your dog historically becomes overly agitated when strangers visit, Halloween will only exacerbate his anxieties."
If your dog historically becomes agitated when strangers visit, Halloween will only exacerbate his anxieties. Some dogs get so worked up that they pace, bark, and whine all evening. It is no fun for you or your poor dog for him to be miserable and anxious all evening. You may consider asking your veterinarian to prescribe a mild sedative. As a practice run, give the medication before Halloween night to assess the impact on your dog.
Keep Halloween treats away from your pet
"Chocolate in all forms and candy or gum artificially sweetened with xylitol can be very, very dangerous for dogs"
Resist the temptation to share Halloween candy with your pet. In fact, keep all candy safely out of reach. Chocolate in all forms and candy or gum artificially sweetened with xylitol can be very, very dangerous for dogs (see handouts on Chocolate or Xylitol poisoning in Dogs). Plus, dogs may gobble up candy… wrappers and all. Cellophane or foil wrappers are big trouble when swallowed. Even natural treats like caramel apples should be off limits. Intestinal upsets, GI blockages, and pancreatitis can result from eating items not normally on your pet’s menu.
Decorate with safety in mind
Festive decorations set the Halloween mood but can pose health risks for your dog. While non-toxic, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds can upset a pet’s stomach, especially when consumed in large quantities. Lit candles in Jack-O-Lanterns become fire hazards when toppled by a curious canine. Fall-colored corn cobs are pretty, but they can obstruct the intestinal tract and often require surgical removal. Decorative holiday lights may brighten your porch, but remember to keep both lights and power cords out of your dog’s reach. Nibbling on electrical cords can be shocking!
Halloween can be lots of fun. It may be your favorite holiday! So, go ahead. Buy the candy. Plan the costume. Map out your Trick or Treat route. Decorate the house. Just keep your dog in mind as you prepare for Halloween, so that the entire family has a good, safe time.