Trick or Treat?: Practicing Halloween Pet Safety


Lights and decorations, costumes and masks, a concentrate of strangers at the door, Halloween can be a downright spooky experience for our pets, and so what can pet owners do to ensure their furry friends have a happy and healthy holiday?

The following is transcribed from an AVMA Animal Tracks Podcast interview with Dr. Kim May Assistant Director of Professional and Public affairs for the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. May offered these tips about Halloween pet safety.

Halloween means a lot of candy in the house and a lot of sharing of that candy, so is it okay to share a piece or two with your pets?

Although it might be a little tough to turn down those begging eyes, the better thing would really be to keep the people treats for the people and treats for the pets.  So, if you’re going to enjoy some of that candy, have a little treat for your pet that is a little bit healthier for your pet.  Especially, the one one to watch out for is the chocolate treats, those can be very bad for pets of any type.  Although chocolates can vary in problem, whether it’s dark chocolate or sweet chocolate, the best thing to do is to just assume that all chocolate is potentially harmful for your pet and not give them any.  The other ones to stay away from, although it may seem like it healthier decision for your pet, would be the sugar-free treats.  Often the sugar-free candies contain xylitol, sugar-free candies and gums, and they can cause a big problem for your pet.  So, it you might at first think that it’s better because they’re sugar-free, but it can actually be a bigger problem because of the xylitol in them.

What are some of the other threats in the house that pet owners should be aware of?

Well, we all like to decorate house and it seems like Halloween is approaching Christmas on the scale of decorations people like to do.  As with Christmas and other holiday decorations, you have to keep in mind that they are often not pet friendly or designed to be pet friendly.  Decorations may have small pieces, there may be some some pieces they can be cheered off and cause an obstruction in their gut, which could be either life-threatening or require some surgery.  Candles are a big thing around the holidays, starting with Halloween and going through even Christmas and New Year’s and you want to make sure that they are out of the way of curious noses and paws, especially if you have a cat that likes to get up on things.  They look at the light, and it’s fascinating, next thing you know they’re batting it with their paw, they knock it over and could potentially start a house fire.  So, you want to put your candles in very safe places that the pets can’t get to them.  Decorations as well should be kept out of their reach, or if that’s not really an option, then maybe you can put your pet in an area where they don’t have access to those decorations or at the very minimum; they are supervised when they are in that room with the decorations.

With so many people coming to the door on Halloween night, what should be done with the pets in the house? Should they be allowed to see who’s at the door to maybe to see that there is no threat or should they be kept in a different part of the household?

Well, the answer is not a black and white answer; it really depends on how your pet behaves.  If you’ve got a cat that takes any opportunity to sneak out the front door or the back door whenever it can, then you probably wouldn’t make sure that the cat is in the safe room, that they can’t try to make a jailbreak every time the door rings in your giving treats to people to get dressed up in costumes.
If you have a dog that is very friendly and happily greets people and is well behaved, doesn’t jump on people or cause any problems, you can probably let them come to the door with you.  Regardless of what you do with them, if they come to the door they have a collar on them, and maybe even a leash.
You want to make sure that they have identification on them because if they do happen to slip out the door you want to be over to get them back and it’s not a whole lot of fun to spend the rest of Halloween evening looking for a lost pet.  So, do what you can to keep them inside and keep them out of harm.  If you have a dog that is fearful of people, or tends to be a little aggressive towards strangers, keep in mind that these are not only going to be strangers, but strangers wearing costumes that might be even more scary to your dog.  So, if your dog has any aggressive tendencies or any fearful tendencies the best thing to do is keep them in a room where they can have some quiet and and enjoy their night without being distracted by the nights activities.

Do you have any advice for people considering dressing up their pets for Halloween?

Dressing up your pet for Halloween is definitely becoming a a growing trend.  A lot of people like to not only have the kids in costumes that have their dogs and cats in costumes too and that’s perfectly fine as long as you follow a few guidelines.  First and foremost, you need to make sure your pets are going to tolerate it.  Some pets are not going to tolerate a costume at all and trying to force them to wear it is going be stressful for them and potentially harmful for you and them.  If you’re going to do it, then you need to get a costume that is going to be comfortable for your pet, that they can wear and it will not obstruct their hearing or their sight, their ability to breathe or eat or drink, and their ability to move.  You want to make sure that they can wear it comfortably.  There are a lot of costumes that are designed specifically for pets and those are probably the safer route to go, because they’ve they’ve already thought of the little pieces that could come off or be chewed off or fall off and potentially be problems, but if you decide to make one at home, you can do that as long as you also try to avoid putting things on there that can be chewed off or fall off and become problems.  And then whenever your pet is wearing their costume and you really want to make sure there under supervision, that there’s somebody there in case something does happen.  Another piece of advice would be that the Halloween evening is not the ideal time to put your costume on the pet for the first time, let them get used to it.  If you buy the costume today, start over the next few days by putting it on and then taking it back off and then repeat increasing time so that they can actually get used to it, and it’s a little more comfortable.  You also should consider the fact that there will be a lot of strangers coming to the door in costumes and that they are also wearing one that potentially too stresses for them, it might make their evening not so enjoyable.

We often hear stories of pet shelters halting adoptions of black cats around Halloween, fearing for their safety; Is there any truth to these rumors and should I be worried if I owned a black cat?

There’s certainly a lot of stories floating around about the dangers to black cats or even black pets in general, not just cats, during Halloween.  Most of these are urban legend, there’s not a whole lot of truth to them.  But, it is really good common sense that when you have a cat to keep it indoors, which most do anyway for many reasons other than being a black cat.  A black car or black dog that is out at night might be more difficult for someone to see, if the cat or dog is on the road, it could be at increased risk of injury.  In general pets should not be outside unless in a confined space, such as a fenced yard, or under your control, with a leash or direct supervision because there is a lot of risk of injury and disease.

Any other advice?

One thing I would add is to just consider safety if you’re considering taking your dog or cat with you.  When you get when you go trick-or-treating you definitely do not want to take your dog along unless it’s well behaved and has good leash manners because there is some risk of injury with a lot of kids running around with costumes on, you don’t really want to stress out your dog.  Another thing to be really careful of if you take them with you is a lot of times candy can be dropped on the sidewalk or on the grass and you want to make sure that your dog isn’t going to eat it without you knowing, and then later you’re dealing with a sick dog because you didn’t know what ate.  So, if you take him with you trick-or-treating.  It’s certainly an okay thing to do if your pet is going to be well behaved and if you’re going to be careful about making sure with their exposed to while you do it.

For more tips on how to keep your pets, happy, healthy and safe visit AVMA’s website.

For more tips on Halloween pet safety and fall pet safety, as well as stay tuned to for seasonal and everyday pet care.


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