The Hazards of Halloween & How to Protect Your Pet

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

Most pets tolerate the costumes of Halloween very well. In fact, a survey by the American Pet Products Association found that 17% of pet owners dress their pets in Halloween costumes each year. Likewise, the intrusion into the homes of most pets by costumed revelers, who are ‘trick or treating’, does not bring with it cause for alarm. However, some pets become anxious or nervous during this time when strangers in scary costumes appear at the front door. If your pet shows this anxiety, place them in a quiet room as far away from the commotion as possible. Turn up the volume on a television or stereo player and try to drown out the noise from the activities created by the costumed visitors. If isolation fails, you can contact your veterinarian for a prescription to place your pet on pheromones or tranquillizers to help fend off this stress.

It is not a good idea to take your dog trick or treating with you. Dogs, who live at the residence where you go trick or treating, may be protective of their domain and charge out of the house and fight with the visiting dog. Dog fights are difficult to break-up under any circumstances, let alone when one is dressed in a Darth Vader suit with a full head mask. Also, dogs get excited when encountering other groups of revelers, especially if they too have a dog in tow, and charge into the street not respecting the presence of vehicles as they would under normal circumstances. Veterinarians treat dogs that were hit by a car every year during the Halloween season.

Halloween visits almost always involve giving the revelers something that can come in the form of candy or other edible treats. Overloads of candy, especially chocolate candy, can be dangerous for your pet. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, and if ingested in large quantities can lead to various medical complications and may even prove fatal for your dog. Vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing and seizures can be symptoms of chocolate toxicity. Also, some hard candies can cause damage to the teeth and gums of dogs if they hastily bite into them.

Candles placed in jack-o-lanterns provide another opportunity for dogs and cats to cause problems during the Halloween season. Being inquisitive, pets tend to explore new objects to see what they are and how they may affect their own lives. An overturned candle can burn the nose of a dog or cat, or even start a fire in nearby papers or curtains. The vapors off a burning candle inside a pumpkin may cause special concerns for pet birds, who breathe those vapors into their air sacs. Please be sure to keep candles out of reach of the pets and pet birds away from the vapors.

Finally, the clothing that makes up the costumes for Halloween can present problems for pets if not managed properly. Strings and tassels on costumes can become play toys for cats and puppies. Cats especially like to chew on these items and may get complications from the dyes in the clothing or intestinal blockage from swallowing the threads and strings. Glow sticks that make up part of the costumes of children during Halloween night are fine; however, the material inside the glow stick is caustic and can burn the mouths of dogs and cats that bite into them. It’s important to keep these items out of reach from your pet.

Halloween can be a fun and joyous time for all family members, including the pets, if certain precautions are taken. It’s better to protect our four-legged family members from harm than it is to treat them if they partake in harmful activities during this season.