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Happy Haloween
Credit: Brett Neilson on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

For Some Pets Halloween is Lots of Fun

Last week I was chatting with some friends about pets in costumes. My daughter really wants to put our cat in a costume and I know it just isn't going to happen. If it does, the costume will only stay on her for a few seconds.

Octodog - Claire DunawayPublic Information Office The city of Marietta's Parks and Recreation Department / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericWith Halloween only days away, I thought I'd seek out what veterinarians and their staff feel is the best approach (the safest and healthiest way) for everyone to have some fun.

Right now, the most important thing to assess is whether or not your pet(s) are anxiety-prone because there are ways to make Halloween less stressful for them.

Clearly, some pets (mostly dogs) seem to enjoy all the buzz and activity. There are bound to be some that are not stressed out by the constant ring of the doorbell and steady stream of ghosts and goblins at the door. [Photo courtesy of the city of Marietta].

If you know your pet will be fine in a costume, look for one that isn't binding or restrictive. Make sure you are watching your pet the entire time s/he is in costume. Avoid elasticized ones which can cut off circulation (if they move up higher on a leg, for example). And, I wouldn't put anything with sparkles or rhinestones on a pet either that could be ingested or get in their eyes. I've seen corneal scratches caused by metallic glitter.

Up next, Dr. Patrick Mahaney and Doggie Howser show off a comfortable, safe Halloween costume for dogs.

Teddy Hilton and Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Halloween Pet Costume Safety (only 1:49 seconds):

If Your Pet is Anxiety-Prone or Scared of Strangers

One of the ways that veterinarians can help your pet is by prescribing a mild sedative. You want to try it out before Halloween night though - just in case there are any adverse reactions. Because once the kids are showing up at your door on Halloween night, you won't be able to keep an eye on your pet.

The random guy with the yellow shirt!amy gizienski on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericI've never been keen on giving my animals any kind of medicine, unless they really need it. So, one year I decided to park myself at the end of the driveway for a few hours with the candy bowl on a little table to hand out treats.

At the time, my rescue animals were new to my home and I just didn't want them overstimulated (or tempted to run out the door).

If you can take turns with family, I highly recommend doing this. There's no chance of your pet dashing out the door, either. Just set something up similar to a lemonade stand on your lawn or driveway.

If You Need to Open and Close the Door

My cat PikaRose Webster on Paw, Mane 'n Fin / All rights reservedWhen I lived in a ground floor apartment, I had no choice but to open my door to trick-or-treaters. In those cases, it's important to keep a reflective collar and some identification on your pet. (Use a luggage tag, even if your pet is microchipped).

It's so heartbreaking to see a family searching for a pet on Halloween night.

Also, keep cats indoors (especially black ones). It's a sad fact that many animal shelters will not allow anyone to adopt a black cat around Halloween. Unfortunately, black cats have been the victims of horrible abuse by those who think black cats are somehow evil. It's criminal and you should report anyone for engaging in this form of animal abuse.

Author's note: The black cat shown was my beautiful Pika, the sweetest little cat in the world.

Dangerous Halloween Props

Smells like ChickenGregg O'Connell on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericFirst up, forget using candles around pets. If you are going to put a candle in a jack-o'-lantern, only do so if your pet is in a totally separate room (with doors shut) so a tail can't catch on fire.

You need to be able to see a lit candle at all times.

Also, if you put a candle in a pumpkin on the porch, you need to be present to keep an eye on it too. Children, more often than pets, have unwittingly had their costumes, a wig, or a trick-or-treat bag catch on fire.

In fact, I say go candle-free. There are wonderful alternative products available now. I use an illuminated pumpkin stand (which has a 6 foot cord) and attach it to a light timer.

Glow sticks are also used inside pumpkins (although they emit a much dimmer light). And I must caution you about keeping glow sticks around pets.

These are Spooky LED Flameless Candles

Spooky LED candles
Credit: Daniel Oines on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Glow Sticks and Pets

Don't Let Your Pets Play with Them

Rave Cat 3Jellaluna on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericDogs and cats are attracted to glow sticks and like to chew on them. The problem is that these tubes are easily punctured. Even if the glow stick states that the liquid inside is non-toxic, the substance inside can be dangerous to your pet.

The Anchor Animal Hospital says:

"The inside is extremely bitter and can cause your pet to drool uncontrollably. Some milk in a bowl or a treat can help to stop the drooling and bad taste. Make sure to wipe off any glow material to prevent your pet from licking and ingesting it again."

TIP: Take your pet into a dark place (like a closet or a windowless room) and wipe off any spots that glow with a damp cloth.

Although most glow stick reactions are mild and very limited, take your pet to a veterinarian or animal hospital if you are unsure or suspect something more serious.

Dangerous Candy for Pets

Chocolate and Sugar-Free Products that Contain Xylitol

Danish Chocolate!Kevin Gong on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericNo amount of chocolate is safe for your pet to consume. The worst offenders are those with higher amounts of cocoa in them - such as dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate.

It's the chemical compound called theobromine found in cocoa that is dangerous.

Theobromine is difficult for dogs to metabolize. (Cats aren't likely to try chocolate so you rarely hear about them becoming ill from ingesting it).

In a WebMD article by Salynn Boyles titled Dogs and Chocolate: Get the Facts, I found the following quotes from veterinarians:

Veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald, PhD, explained that "twenty ounces of milk chocolate, ten ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and just 2.25 ounces of baking chocolate could potentially kill a 22-pound dog."

And veterinarian, Michelle DeHaven, described the worst case of chocolate poisoning she ever saw: 

“We had to treat the dog with fluids and anti-seizure medication for five days. Every time we stopped the meds he would start seizuring again." [The dog was an 8 lb. poodle who was fed a pound of chocolate on his birthday].

Xylitol (aka Sugar Alcohol or alditol)

Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM and Veterinary Medicine Expert explained more about the dangers of xylitol ingestion by pets in her article Common Sugar Substitute Xylitol Can Be Deadly for Pets.

Chick-O-Sticks Contains 8 Grams of Sugar Alcohol per servingJeepersMedia on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericHere are some highlights:

  • Ingestion of xylitol (commonly found in sugar-free products for diabetics, gum, or candy) can be lethal.
  • There is a link between xylitol ingestion and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in dogs.
  • Consumption of xylitol is associated with acute toxicity in dogs and suspected of causing toxicity in ferrets.

Therefore, all types of Halloween treats need to remain out of reach of pets, including the empty wrappers. A wrapper, if ingested, could cause an intestinal blockage and be a life-threatening condition as well.

Dr. Lexi Becker Explains More About Chocolate Toxicity

Pet Connection Health Tips - Halloween Safety For Pets (1:58)

Summary and Additional Resources

Dawn Davenport IImike krzeszak on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIt's safe to say that only certain types of highly sociable, well-behaved pets truly enjoy Halloween.

For many, it's unsettling and can cause a great deal of anxiety. To avoid the use of sedatives, why not meet the kids on your front lawn or driveway with treats? Or you could keep your pet(s) in a quiet room/area of your home for a few hours?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a detailed list of the Top 10 Safety Tips for Pet Parents. As well, the BC SPCA provides some useful ways to calm anxious pets in their post titled Halloween Frights.

If your pet has ingested any Halloween candy, contact your local Animal Poison Control center, veterinarian, or emergency animal hospital. Provide the vet with the following information: what type of candy/gum/chocolate (bring the wrapper), percentage of cocoa in chocolate (if listed), and whether or not your pet has vomited. Include any other signs and symptoms you've noticed.

If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call the ASPCA at (888) 426-4435. If you live outside of the US, look up the emergency phone numbers and keep them handy - just in case.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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