October can be a fun-filled month of activities. Haunted houses, ghost walks, hayrides, fall festivals and of course, Halloween fill our calendars. While humans love this sort of thing, our four legged friends are not always fans. In fact, Halloween can be a particularly hazardous time for pets unless some common sense precautions are taken. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help protect your pets.
Cat & Dog Halloween Costumes
Costuming is something we humans enjoy and understand. Pets, however, may not take to costuming very well. Typically, if a dog or cat is used to wearing a sweater, raincoat or blanket, putting a costume on him won’t make a bit of difference. He won’t know or care if he’s wearing a Green Bay Packers sweater or something that makes him look like Dracula’s dog. If he’s not used to wearing a sweater or blanket, resistance and one seriously mournful look is what you’ll get. Generally, costumes should not be left on your pet while he is unattended due to risk of strangulation and accidental ingestion. Anytime you put your pet in a costume, or clothing of any kind, check for the following signs.
- Annoyance factor – A lion’s mane may look adorable on your big dog, but the extra fuzzy stuff over his head and ears may drive him nuts. The same goes for something that drags the ground beside or behind your pet. He’ll just go around in circles chasing after it so don’t bother.
- Restriction – Costumes shouldn’t be restrictive to your pet’s natural movements, particularly around the neck and legs. Cats in particular hate things over their ears and will often freeze in shock when they are placed in a costume. You might have a few seconds to take a photo and that may be all!
- Dangling pieces – Check the costume for dangling bits that can be chewed off. This will pose a choking hazard so unless you want to spend Halloween with the vet, prevention is key. Another reason to always supervise your pet while in costume.
- Hypo-allergenic & fire resistant – Large quantities of costumes are sold annually but many of them are cheap fabric with cheap stuffing and parts. Most aren’t fire resistant. Make sure to dress your pet in something that is as safe as possible and won’t cause skin irritation or catch fire easily.
At this time of year, there is an increase in vet visits due to pancreatitis and gastroenteritis. Avoid giving your dog fatty foods, rich human foods, cooked bones and anything that your pet is not used to eating. You may need to teach your dog to stay on his bed with a special healthy chew treat if you can’t trust your relatives not to feed him. Many guests find it impossible not to sneakily pass something under the table to your dog. Also watch out for:
- Chocolate and Xylitol – We all know how toxic chocolate is to dogs but xylitol is also highly dangerous for pets. Used as an artificial sweetener, it’s in many sugar free candies and can cause fatal hypoglycaemia.
- No sweet stuff – Share candy with humans, not your pets and make sure family, friends and strangers do the same. If necessary, provide some healthy treats that can be given to your pets and any trick-or-treaters of the furry variety.
- Watch those wrappers – Tin foil and plastic wrappers from candy draw the attention of cats and dogs, often to be found later lodged in the throats or digestive tracts of pets.
All those fantastic decorations can prove to be hazardous to cats and dogs. Cats love to play with string-like toys and will often accidentally ingest things due to the backward-facing barbs on their tongues. These barbs are great for catching prey, but not so great if they end up with string or fabric stuck in their mouths while playing. Many a cat has ended up accidentally ingesting foreign material and needing emergency surgery, usually on a public holiday when your regular vet is closed!
- Candles – It seems every home has at least one pumpkin scented candle and some have several. While it’s fantastic for the freshness of the home, burning candles and pets don’t safely mix. Consider flameless candles instead.
- Chewing hazards – make sure those electrical decorations can’t be chewed by your puppy, not to mention all those other irresistible decorations.
- Spider webs – those fake spider-web decorations and anything dangly can be a real hazard to cats. Keep them well out of reach to avoid accidental ingestion or trauma secondary to the acrobatics required to get to them in the first place.
Trick-or-treating and doorbell ringing followed by the sound of kids yelling and scrambling around on the porch is enough to drive pets wild. Some get anxious while others just want in on the fun. See your vet if your pet is really suffering as there are many options to help your pet cope, sometimes medication, or perhaps even a Thundershirt.
- Consider crating – Training your pet to be content in his safe ‘den’ can be a great way to protect him from the excitement for the evening. Just make sure to check on him frequently.
- Tethering – If your dog forgets his manners when guests come over, keep him on a lead and reward him with treats for sitting and being calm. You can even attach the lead to your belt to keep yourself hands-free. Even if the extra noise and excitement is fine with your pet, you never know what will cause him to panic and run outside or perhaps even snap at a child.
- ThunderShirts are Go – Used mainly to calm an anxious dog during storms, a ThunderShirt is handy on Halloween too. Made of lightweight durable nylon the ThunderShirt puts gentle pressure at specific spots on your body to induce a sensation of calm. It’s more a ‘Wonder-shirt’ in my opinion and can help with low level anxiety.
Sadly, every Halloween brings reports from around the country about cruelty to animals. Certain animals, especially black cats and snakes, are used in Haunted Houses to frighten others or are killed or harmed in crazy ritualistic nonsense related to Halloween. Many animal adoption agencies won’t allow the adoption of black cats during October for this reason. This activity is obviously cruel to the animals and can possibly lead to harm of humans as well. While it is a small number of cases annually, this type of cruelty is not something to be overlooked.
- Report – please don’t hesitate to call the local authorities if you have any concerns about animal cruelty.
Finally, keep your vet’s 24-hour emergency phone number nearby, programmed into your cell or on the fridge. If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, call your vet, we are always happy to help. It is much better to be the overanxious worrier of a parent, rather than end up with big and expensive problems due to waiting too long to seek help.
Happy Halloween and enjoy the start of the festive season!
Eloise Bright is a mom to Duster, the Pomeranian, and Jimmy, the cat. As a Sydney based veterinarian of 7 years currently working with Love That Pet, Eloise has taken the opportunity to volunteer at charity clinics and is now completing her Masters in Small Animal Practice.