Halloween and Your Pets
By Cindy McGovern
Pet costumes can be as simple as a scarf or cape, or as complex as elaborate outfits with helmets and wigs. There are themed costumes like Star Wars and Disney characters, as well as other movie and television favorites. Americans spend almost $500 million on Halloween costumes for their pets according to the National Retail Federation. Pet costumes comprise 15% of the $3.2 billion spent on all costume sales.
On average, more than 30 million people purchase pet costumes. A quick internet search shows an angel costume with set of wings and halo for about $12 to a Yoda costume complete with light saber for $40 to $70, depending on the size of the dog. Not surprisingly, a pumpkin is the top pet costume: hot dogs and bumble bees take the second and third place, respectively. While it may be cute to see your furry friend dressed up to celebrate the holiday, is it a good idea?
Wearing a costume can cause stress for some animals. You should only dress up your pet if you know they enjoy it. If you do opt for a Halloween costume, be sure to try on the costume before Halloween, ensuring it doesn’t limit movement, sight, or their ability to breathe, meow, or bark. Make sure it isn’t dangerous or simply annoying to your pet and check for small, dangling, or easily chewable pieces that could present a choking hazard. Ill-fitting costumes can get caught or twisted on external objects or on your pet, leading to injury. Pets who are wearing a costume should always be supervised by a responsible adult so if something goes wrong, it can be addressed immediately.
If your pet seems distressed or shows abnormal behavior, remove the costume and try a festive collar or bandana instead. Signs of discomfort are: folded down ears, eyes rolling back or looking sideways, a tucked tail, or hunching over. Cats may start to groom themselves a lot, sit or lie very still, be more vocal or even lash out. Dogs might show they’re stressed by licking their lips, yawning or panting, or freezing still.
While it’s best to keep your pets inside for Halloween, some will accompany you on trick or treat rounds. Make sure your dog has the proper identification and all information is up to date. Microchips are a great way to help find any pets that get lost. Cats, in particular, should stay indoors, especially black cats. Black cats are an easy target for Halloween pranksters who want to hurt unsuspecting animals. In fact, many shelters won’t adopt out black cats during the month of October as a safety precaution.
If you’re the one answering the door and dispensing candy, keep the following safety tips in mind. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours. While opening the door for guests, be sure that your dog or cat doesn’t dart outside. Animals can become excited or threatened by visitors, so keeping them in a separate room will both help them remain calm and ensure they don’t escape.
Halloween is the busiest time of year for the Pet Poison Helpline because pets can accidentally ingest Halloween candy or décor. As PetMD notes “All forms of chocolate—especially baking or dark chocolate—can be dangerous, even lethal, for dogs and cats. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures. Halloween candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also be poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar and loss of coordination and seizures…. And while xylitol toxicity in cats has yet to be established, it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Animals can’t remove the wrappers from candy and may try to eat them; ingesting these wrappers can cause choking or life-threatening bowel obstruction. If you think your animal companion has ingested something, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately.
Halloween decorations also pose a threat to dogs, cats, and other animals. Keep your pets away from jack-o-lanterns, candles, balloons, or other decorations that they could ingest, become tangled in, or be injured by. If you are using candles to light your jack-o-lanterns or other Halloween decorations, make sure to place them well out of reach of your pets so they don’t burn themselves or cause a fire.
Electric/battery-powered Halloween decorations are safer than open candles, but they can still be a risk to pets: chewing on electrical cords can cause a life-threatening electrical shock or burn, and batteries may cause chemical burns when chewed open or gastrointestinal blockage when swallowed. Shards of glass or plastic can cause lacerations externally or internally.
While glow sticks can help keep people safe on Halloween night, they can add some unwanted drama to the holiday if a pet chews one open. The liquid inside glow sticks is non-toxic, but it will still taste bad. Pets who get a taste may drool, paw at their mouth, become agitated, and sometimes even vomit. If your pet does chew on a glow stick, offer fresh water or a small meal to help clear the liquid out of their mouth.
Pumpkin can be good for dogs and cats, but too much can cause digestive issues. And a rotting pumpkin that was hollowed out to make room for a candle may harbor harmful bacteria, causing gastrointestinal upset. Mold can produce mycotoxins that can cause neurologic problems in dogs and cats.
Does all this mean you can’t enjoy Halloween with your best furry friend? Of course not. By taking simple, common-sense steps to protect your pet’s safety, you can both enjoy a safe and festive holiday.
About the Author: Cindy McGovern is a dedicated cat owner and King Street Cats volunteer.