From the Archive: Very Scary: Preparing Pets for Halloween

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In celebration of Goodnewsforpets 20th Anniversary, we are reposting select posts. This column originally ran from our first columnist, the legendary Steve Dale in October, 2007.  

Goblins and ghouls can bark? Halloween is a family holiday, and increasingly that means all members of the family. What some consider really scary, or perhaps wacky, is the fact that people are dressing up their pets in costume. There are superhero dogs, cats wearing an Elvis (as in Presley) wig and pet parrots donning little sombreros.

What’s the point? Deborah Schnackenberg, interim vice president of Animal Protection Services at the American Humane Association simply says, “It’s fun for pets, and fun for their owners.”

According to a recent poll conducted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) one in 10 dog owners can’t imagine not dressing up their pup. That may not seem like a high number, but with more than 70 million dogs in the U.S. ” that’s a whole lot of pets dressing up.

While lots of pets do enjoy the attention, Schnackenberg says others probably feel as humiliated as they look. “Don’t force costumes on the pets. It’s probably best to purchase manufactured costumes, and always make sure there’s freedom to comfortably walk around so they don’t contort themselves in ways that are uncomfortable or harmful. Never use infant clothes or clothes for small children on pets.”

Some pets go door to door and trick or treat with family members, while others participate in local parties and costume contests. Often times parties are also fundraising events.

Ada Nieves, who heads a New York City-based Chihuahua rescue group, has organized her third annual Happy Howl-oween party. Last year’s costume contest included more than 50 dressed up Chihuahuas. The winner was a Chihuahua (sorry, this is a Chihuahua-only, breed specific bash) dressed as King Tut, second place was a canine flying nun, and placing third was Pocahontas.

This year, Nieves’ own four pint-sized pups will be Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man. Nieves says she will be the Wicked Witch of the West. “I love it!” she repeats and laughs. But how do her pint sized pups feel? “When I take out the costumes, they do a happy dance,” she says. “Their tails do nothing but wag.”

Other dogs accompany the family trick-or-treating in the ‘hood. “For some dogs, that’s great, but not for all dogs,” warns Dr. Bonnie Beaver, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and veterinary behaviorist at Texas A & M University, College Station. “Certainly an adult should be in charge of holding that dog’s leash if you’re taking your dog with you. And having a well socialized and well trained dog is necessary.”

Even when your dog stays home, it’s not always fun. After all, the doorbell is ringing over and over, and pets hear crazy commotion outdoors. “It might be best to take all the family pets and place them in a relatively quiet back room with the door closed,” says Beaver. “Even usually social dogs might wonder about ghouls or superheroes coming to the door ” and may not recognize them as people.” At worst, there can be a dog bite, or a frightened pet bolting out the front door.

For reasons no one seems able to explain, costumes for pets are selling particularly well this year. In Chicago, a retail store called Barker & Meowsky: A Paw Firm (, 773-868-0200), is like the Neiman Marcus of pet stores. The hottest selling costume at this high end store is an old favorite, bat wings ($18.95). Also big this year is the monkey costume ($35), the ballerina tutu ($29.95) and the turtle costume ($35).

At PetSmart stores across the country and at, the devil ($14.99) – a perennial top seller, repeats this season. The second top seller is the witch costume ($19.99) followed closely by a choice for cats, an Elvis wig ($7.99), which is a confusing feline choice since Elvis sang about hound dogs.

Interestingly, but perhaps not too surprisingly, men aren’t nearly as likely as woman to get into pet costumes. According to the AKC survey, men are 12 percent more likely than women to wonder why anyone would ever consider dressing up a pet. Even still, 78 percent of men apparently feel that dressing up a pet is very cool.

More on Safety

“Halloween can be fun for the family, but what’s most important is safety,” stresses Beaver.

Here are a few additional safety tips:

Beaver says that adults should be aware of where they stash the goods. Halloween candy can be dangerous for dogs, particularly chocolates and gum which may contain an artificial sweetener called Xylitol. Young children may want to share their candy with pets. Sharing is a nice skill to learn, but not sharing Halloween candy with pets.

“Jack-o-’lanterns with candles inside may be dangerous,” says Schnackenberg. “A dancing flame can be attractive to a cat or a bird and be a fire hazard. You need to think about the little feline paw, and the curiosity of a cat. Also, fumes barely perceptible to people may be life threatening to pet birds.”



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