Tips for a Harm-Free Halloween

Halloween can be a tricky time for pets tempted by bowlfuls of candy or confused by the steady stream of costumed strangers suddenly showing up at the door. We asked local experts what pet owners should consider as the jack o’lanterns come out, including hidden dangers that sometimes get overlooked.

Keep your pet safe from potentially scary situations.

“As far as accidents and emergencies go, there are frequent candy ingestions and also animals being hit by cars,” says Dr. Allison Rumboll, DVM, an emergency veterinarian at Grady Veterinary Hospital in Hamilton County, of the activity she sees around Halloween in their 24-hour facility. “But it’s not as busy as other holidays, like the Fourth of July, Christmas, or New Year’s.”

Candy, candy, candy

Halloween candy is a big culprit that causes problems for pets, as keeping it conveniently located for you yet out of reach for them can be a challenge, especially if you’ve got a climber. “These problems depend heavily on the dose ingested and patient response,” says Rumboll. “Anything in large doses can cause an issue.”

Food tolerance can vary from species to species, Rumboll says, and “innate susceptibility” can differ in animals within a species, too. “This is why it’s very important to watch closely for any clinical signs of toxicity with any level of ingestion,” she says.

Chocolate is a well-known toxin for dogs, Rumboll says, and darker varieties are more harmful. “Symptoms of chocolate poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures,” says Dr. Sheri Kyle, DVM, head veterinarian at Kyle Veterinary Hospital in Sharonville.

“Halloween candies containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol can also be poisonous to pets,” says Kyle, noting that even small amounts of Xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar and subsequent loss of coordination, and seizures. “We also see problems with artificial sweeteners causing stomach upset or severe liver disease,” Rumboll says.

Choking is also a danger. “The size and shape of different candies can pose risks to pets,” says Brian Brezinski, an animal adoption counselor with the League of Animal Welfare in Batavia. “Wrappers and packaging can cause problems too, such as obstructions,” warns Rumboll. “Cats love playing with string and shiny things.”

Kyle suggests not taking any chances. “Call your veterinarian if your pet eats any candy or wrappers, or contact an emergency vet center for advice,” she says. And though it may be tempting to try home remedies to avoid the hassle of a call or visit to the vet on a holiday, Rumboll agrees it’s best to reach out. “I would recommend speaking to a veterinarian or a poison control hotline before taking any treatment measures at home.”

Dressing up

Kyle suggests not taking any chances. “Call your veterinarian if your pet eats any candy or wrappers, or contact an emergency vet center for advice,” she says. And though it may be tempting to try home remedies to avoid the hassle of a call or visit to the vet on a holiday, Rumboll agrees it’s best to reach out. “I would recommend speaking to a veterinarian or a poison control hotline before taking any treatment measures at home.”

“I would discourage dressing up your pet if they aren’t comfortable wearing clothes or outfits,” says Rumboll. “This will only increase stress.” Kyle agrees. “Don’t dress your pet up unless they really enjoy it,” she says. Kyle suggests trying on the costume well before the holiday and slowly increasing the time your pet wears it, to test their tolerance of it. “This may help them get used to it, making it more enjoyable for everyone,” she says.

“Costumes should not restrict their movement, hearing, sight, or breathing.”

Stranger anxiety

Increased exposure to people, whether your pet is out and about or staying in for the night, can be awfully stressful for them, and you in turn.

“It’s important to know your animal’s limits with how much social interaction they can tolerate,” says Rumboll. “Some dogs and cats don’t tire of interaction, while others avoid it entirely, and others become aggressive. Don’t push them to meet people or stay social when they’re showing signs of anxiety or stress.”

In fact, Halloween provides a chance to address social issues that may affect your pet on other occasions, too. “This is a good time to speak to your veterinarian about behavioral or medical intervention for this problem,” says Rumboll, adding that they’ve had some anxious and nervous dogs come into the hospital this time of year.

“There’s always the potential for certain costumes, masks, and accessories to cause fear and anxiety, especially with masks that prevent an animal from being able to see your eyes,” Brezinski says. “If you plan on having anyone inside the house, make sure they remove any mask or large parts of their costumes so your pet will not perceive them as a threat.” He also suggests taking your pet on a long walk or getting in a lot of playtime before festivities begin. “Getting their energy out before trick-or-treating starts can be very helpful,” he says.

Flight risks

Trick-or-treat hours are prime time for escape artists. “We do worry about animals being struck by cars or running out of open doors due to the increased foot traffic during the holiday,” says Rumboll.

“If your pet is comfortable with strangers, have your pet on a leash inside,” Kyle suggests. “This way you can hold the leash while opening your door to pass out goodies.” Both Rumboll and Kyle recommend establishing a “safe room” inside your home where your pet can stay or retreat to that’s away from all the beggar’s night activity.

“Maybe play calming music or even turn the TV on Animal Planet to drown out some of the noise,” Kyle says. “Pets can be overstimulated by sights, noises, strangers, doorbells, and costumes.”

If you venture out with your pet for trick-or-treating, Kyle has several suggestions. “Make sure your pet is microchipped and has an ID tag on their collar. Keep a tight hold of their leash in case your pet gets spooked. Leave plenty of space between your pet and the trick-or-treaters. Have a flashlight handy and your pet’s own treats,” she says. “And if you feel your pet is uncomfortable, take them home.”

Other hazards

Halloween pranksters and holiday decorations that have electrical cords pose additional risks for pets. “Some pets are chewers, and it can cause shock or burns,” says Kyle. “And, if pets are left outside during trick-or-treat time, pranksters may try to harm or even open gates to release pets. Keeping pets inside is best.”

Rumboll also recommends keeping pets under close watch, considering the influx of people the holiday can bring. “Unfortunately there are cases of abuse seen,” she says, “and we should all try and keep our pets safe.”

Animals who are especially sensitive to sound might get rattled. “There can be fireworks and loud noises,” says Rumboll, “and some cats and dogs will get anxiety with these occurrences.”

It’s possible your pet will be offered treats made for animals—or you may think you’d like to have some on hand for any furry trick-or-treaters who stop by. “Hand pet treats to the owners, and they can decide if they want their pet to have it,” advises Kyle. Also, if you’re offered (or plan to offer) homemade treats, it’s best to ask for (or have ready) an ingredient list to check. “Many pets have food allergies,” says Kyle, “so it’s best to leave the decision to the owner.”

The tale of Frog-Dog

Probably the best advice to remember is to expect the unexpected. “One Halloween, I had some owners in who had used green body paint to dress as frogs,” says Rumboll. Their Labrador got into the paint when the pair weren’t looking. “He had some vomiting afterward, so his owners—two ‘green frogs’—walked through our door with a green-speckled, green-tongued, bouncing Labrador,” Rumboll says. “It was quite the sight for Halloween! Luckily, the frog-dog responded well to treatment, and they all got home in time to hand out candy.”

Is this a scarier time for black cats?​

Photo by Pet Love Photography.

Superstition has it that a black cat crossing your path could bring you bad luck, but are black cats the ones who should be worried, especially at Halloween?

“There certainly is a bit of a stigma around black cats and other black pets that can make Halloween time potentially more dangerous for them,” says Brian Brezinski, animal adoption counselor at the League for Animal Welfare in Batavia (LFAW.org). “Movies, stories, and myths surrounding Halloween haven’t done black cats and black animals any favors.”

However, Brezinski says, at the League, a nonprofit focused on providing shelter and new homes for homeless cats and dogs, they don’t usually see an increase in black cat rescues coming in as the witching season approaches. “But, we generally do have a good number of black cats throughout the year that are available for adoption,” he says. They also haven’t found that more people ask about adopting black cats around Halloween.

Brezinski says that generally, in shelters, black cats (and black dogs) aren’t sought after as much because of their standard, flat-colored coats. “They tend to be a little less popular than other cats, such as calicos or tabbies,” he says, “but they also tend to have the personality that can draw in their future adopters, even if their coat may not be as colorful or as patterned as others.”

CincyPet Magazine editor STEFANIE LAUFERSWEILER is a freelance writer and editor living in Cincinnati. While she’s allergic to cats, her favorite dog breed is the Samoyed, and she misses hers (Maggie and Fozzie) every day.

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