Should we dress up our pets for Halloween?
Dressing up on Halloween can be great fun for children and adults alike, but what about our furry friends? Just like people, dogs and cats are individuals, and no two animals are the same. For some pets, getting dressed up and the attention their costume brings, is super exciting. For others, however, it can be less positive, ranging from mild discomfort to seriously anxiety-inducing. If you want to include your dog or cat in the Halloween fun, definitely practice with their costume before the event so there isn’t any pressure. It’s great if they can practice wearing the costume for short periods of time and gradually increase the duration. If the costume has multiple parts, try one at a time so Fido or Fluffy aren’t overwhelmed. Always keep it positive – don’t force anyone to wear something they don’t want to, and if at any point they start to look uncomfortable, remove it and reward them for being such a good sport!
Dangers of Candy & Chocolate for Pets
It’s relatively well known that chocolate is toxic to dogs, though few know that it is toxic to cats too. Thankfully, cats have less of a sweet tooth than dogs, due to their lack of sweet taste receptors, but remember that curious kitties can get into anything! The toxicity of chocolate is related to its cocoa content, meaning all chocolate has the potential to cause harm, depending on the dose. Cocoa contains theobromine and caffeine, toxins that stimulate the heart to beat faster, cause blood vessel dilation, and relax smooth muscle. These can cause dangerous arrhythmias and seizures, though in lower doses the most common signs are of vomiting and diarrhea. The concentration of the cocoa in darker chocolate makes it more toxic than milk chocolate, so smaller doses are required to cause adverse effect, but even milk chocolate can be deadly to small dogs and cats. Dark and cooking chocolate can contain up to 400mg or more of theobromine per ounce, while milk chocolate may have between 50-150mg/ounce. For a medium sized dog, as little as an ounce of dark chocolate can cause signs of poisoning, with around 20mg/kg being a potentially toxic dose.
While many people recognize the risk of chocolate, candy may be overlooked as another potential source of harm. The high sugar and fat content can cause acute pancreatitis, a potentially life-threatening illness. Sugar-free candies can be even more deadly if sweetened with xylitol instead.
Not only are chocolates and candies dangerous, but even snack foods deemed healthy for humans, like certain fruits and nuts can be dangerous too. For example, macadamia nuts can cause vomiting and neurological signs, while raisins can cause acute kidney damage.
Regardless of the type, keeping all human Halloween treats well out of reach of pets is extremely important! Keep bowls of treats on tables and countertops out of reach of inquisitive noses. If your pooch is accompanying a child out Trick or Treating, be sure to keep the collected candy safely away from them and don’t let even well-intentioned strangers give snacks to Fido. Remember, there are treats made specifically for pets that are safe and healthy for them to eat (including Halo’s Liv-A-Littles for dogs and cats, or Halo Vegan Biscuits for dogs), allowing your pets to take part in the treat celebrations too!
Help Your Pets Keep Their Cool with Trick-or-Treaters
We know the ghouls and goblins coming to our door on Halloween are friendly kids celebrating a fun holiday. Our pets, on the other hand, may find them to be terrifying intruders and either hide themselves away or try to protect us from these monsters! It can be a stressful and even scary night for them, so preparing early will help give them their best chance at success. Even for your calmest and friendliest pets, practice with getting them desensitized to door knocks. You can do this by knocking on a wall or table, or even knocking on the door itself, followed by… absolutely nothing. If your cat or dog learns that door knocks have absolutely no significance, that they don’t necessarily mean someone is coming in or that anything exciting is happening, then next time there’s a knock at the door they won’t instantaneously react. Work as well on desensitizing them to seeing strange masks or costumes. Dogs in particular pay very close attention to our facial expressions, and masks take away their ability to interpret our body language. They can find this both intimidating and frustrating, quite understandably! It might sound silly, but try spontaneously wearing a mask or costume when you’re in the house doing your normal daily routine. They’ll learn that seeing people in unexpected garments isn’t something to be frightened of, and that even their best friend might be the one hiding behind the mask, so it isn’t something to be concerned about.
Of course, for some of our furry friends, having a space away from the action will be a far better and safer option. If your home allows, separating Fido or Fluffy from the front door can help reduce their anxiety. This may be upstairs or downstairs, or even in a room they are comfortable in. Try playing some relaxing music in their space to help drown out the commotion and keep them calm. A great activity to keep them occupied is to fill a hollow toy with canned food, soaked kibble, and/or treats. To make it last even longer, freeze the toy. For the more anxious, swaddling them (like Thunder Shirts) may help and/or hormone diffusers like Feliway and DAP may be another level of support for them. For some of our most anxious furry family members, Halloween might just be too much for them. You may wish to opt out of Halloween and not invite Trick or Treaters to your door. Or, if the activity out on the streets is still too much, some pets may appreciate a sleepover somewhere less lively – perhaps a friend or family member living on a rural property, or even a boarding kennel – somewhere quiet where they can escape from the festivities.
Have fun and stay safe!
Dr. Sarah Dodd