To ensure that you only keep good memories of Halloween with your pet, please make sure you follow these suggestions.
This newsletter is hopefully not too often philosophical. So you can decide whether it is appropriate or not to dress a Pug as a bumble bee or a Dalmatian as a lady bug! Most pets prefer to wear their own birthday suits for Halloween anyway.
Let’s forget philosophy and concentrate on medical issues…
Costumes on pets can be dangerous if they restrict normal movements, seeing or breathing, or if they are secured with rubber bands (which can act as tourniquets).
Also beware of dangling parts that could be chewed off. This may lead to intestinal blockage, which would require surgery…
If you do decide to dress up your pet for Halloween, please never leave them unattended.
Costumes, sights and sounds can scare pets, too! A frightened pet’s behavior can change drastically under those circumstances: shaking, barking, trying to escape, or even biting.
Candy and xylitol
Pets can choke on candy, or it can irritate or block their intestine. The same can be said about candy wrappers and lollipop sticks.
A few months ago, we removed the most unlikely foreign body that caused a blockage in a Dobie’s intestine: the plastic wrap of a peanut butter cracker — among other things.
Take the time to explain this to young children. This may be the one time where sharing is not good!
Xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in sugar free gum and candies, is toxic in dogs. This is a fairly recent discovery, but I just read yet another report saying that pet poison centers keep noticing a scary increase in the number of intoxications. It can cause a number of signs, from vomiting to seizures to fatal liver failure…
By the way, xylitol is also found in sugar-free baked products.
Chocolate is toxic to both dogs and cats. It takes only 1.5 oz of unsweetened chocolate to cause toxicity in a 10 pound dog. For cats, the toxic dose is even lower. If your pet eats chocolate, please contact your vet or the closest emergency clinic ASAP. Signs range from vomiting, diarrhea and an increased heart rate, to seizures and death.
With decorations in various places, you may have electrical cords and extensions lying around. Keep them out of reach from your pets. Scared pets can do strange things, and they could suddenly decide to chew on a cord. At best, this can lead to severe burns to the mouth. At worst, of course, electrical shock can be deadly.
Pets, loose costumes and fire don’t go together well…
In pumpkins and other decorative displays, candles may attract curious pets and cause serious burns. They also could be knocked over by curious cats or wagging tails and might create a fire hazard.
Decorations, especially stringy, such as fake cobwebs, can cause life threatening digestive conditions if ingested. Also beware of rope (and elastic bands, as mentioned above) securing costumes or decorations.
Of all the decorations, corn cob can be one of most dangerous. Early subscribers may remember a previous newsletter about the dangers of swallowed corn cobs… they can be tough to diagnose and can cause a dangerous intestinal obstruction.
Kitties – black or not
The scariest part of Halloween may be for cats.
Over the years (including last year in Pennsylvania – and elsewhere), there have been reports of cats, -especially black-, being injured or tortured. For this reason, many animal shelters forbid adoptions of black cats prior to Halloween. They have noticed that some people would return their recently adopted black cat after Halloween with some lame excuse.
No one really knows how our kitties came to be sometimes so maligned. After all, why would a black cat be a sign of bad luck? Maybe because of their nocturnal nature, cats have long been associated with mystery and have been invoked as a decorative symbol of spookiness at Halloween. If you have an outdoor cat, especially a (part) black one, keep her inside in the days surrounding Halloween.
So as you get ready for Halloween or trick or treating, you might want to consider leaving your pet at home, secluded in a quiet, safe, dark area, away from the door. This is the best way to ensure that your pet doesn’t escape when you open the door for little visitors. With time, all the ringing and all these trick-or-treaters can become stressful to your pet.
In case your pet does escape, make sure that (s)he is wearing proper identification: collar ID with your address and phone number, tattoo, microchip… just to be on the safe side, put your pet’s collar and ID tag on, -even indoors-, if only on Halloween night.
Despite the potentials dangers, I hope that you and your pet enjoy Halloween!
Until next time,
Phil Zeltzman, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons