By Dr. Bruce Little
October brings with it falling leaves, chilly air, football, the World Series and Halloween. All these things can be met with gratitude after a long, hot summer although we don’t like the winds too chilly. Especially if the winds bring in the rain and causes the multi-colored leaves to drop to the ground creating a need to get out the rakes and clean the leaves from the yard. Halloween can be great fun for the kids and many adults; however, it can be stressful for the family pets. A constant ringing of the doorbell and strangely dressed people appearing when the door is opened, with lots of scary costumes and elevated and unusual noises, can stress out many dogs and cats. It is not unusual for pets, especially dogs, to exhibit physical signs of stress through vomiting, diarrhea, barking and unexpected fearful aggression. Some will even bite when stressed, although it is an uncommon behavioral characteristic for that particular dog under normal circumstances. Cats may also have vomiting and diarrhea although they are more likely to run from the scene and hide. It is best to place your pets in a closed, quiet room with a television or stereo playing to distract them. A synthetic hormone product called Felway can be sprayed on cats to help relieve their anxiety. You might also provide your pets with a long-lasting, treat-dispensing toy to keep them entertained during the height of the trick-or-treat activities. You can buy these produces at most pet supply stores. For pets with severe anxiety levels during the intrusion of swarms of trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, it may be necessary to consult your veterinarian about anti-anxiety or tranquillizing drugs. If you are unfortunately blessed with one of these pets that has a severe reaction to the activities of Halloween, you should take the pet to the veterinarian before the festivities begin in order to maximize the effects of calming medications.
It is best to keep your pets indoors during this time of year. Halloween pranks against pets can be vicious, especially if your cat happens to be a black cat. People, even younger children, are more likely to take actions against a pet on Halloween that is induced by the group mentality, and would not be a consideration at any other time of year. You must be careful that your pet does not dart out of the door when the doorbell rings and the door is opened to greet them, and a group of costumed strangers present themselves with loud revelry. Dogs and cats are subject to being hit by cars or other vehicles while under stress and confusion. They may not react to traffic as they normally would if a group of costumed trick-or-treaters approach them on the other side of the street. It is imperative that the pet, dog or cat, has proper identification in case they do break the barriers of the house or yard. I prefer that all pets be microchipped with a standard chip inserted by a veterinary professional and the information regarding the pet’s name and contact information be kept updated with the company registry database. If the pet is going to have the opportunity to go outside during Halloween, it is also best to have a collar with identification information immediately accessible by neighbors and the people who are celebrating Halloween. These good Samaritans may save you a trip to the animal hospital or animal shelter to retrieve your confused dog or cat by bringing them home.
It is not a good idea to take you dog trick or treating with you. Dogs who live at the residence where you go to trick or treat 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. 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. Keep candles out of reach of the pets and pet birds away from the vapors.
Halloween visits in the neighborhood almost always involves candy or other “treats” that are wrapped in paper, aluminum foil, string or other wrapping materials. Both the candy if allowed in excess and the wrapper can be a threat to the pet’s health if not controlled by the adults in charge of monitoring the Halloween activities. Every year veterinarians treat dogs and cats that have swallowed candy wrappers, lollypop sticks, peanut hulls and a host of other items that may make the pet sick or create an intestinal blockage that requires veterinary intervention. Toxic materials such as xylitol that is used as an artificial sweetener in baked goods, chewing gum and other products is highly toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in higher doses can cause heart beat abnormalities, tremors, and possibly seizures. The darker the chocolate the more toxic the contents may be. Baker’s chocolate is ten times more toxic to dogs than lighter chocolates found in most candies. It is never a good idea to allow dogs or cats to access marijuana products. With the recent legalization of medical marijuana in many states and recreational marijuana in four states, the incidence of marijuana toxicity has increased significantly in those localities. Baked products that contain raisins, currants and grapes even in small doses, can result in kidney failure in dogs. Small quantities of alcohol consumed by pets can cause vomiting, incoordination, confusion and seizures in most pets if given in enough quantity. Remember, a 20-pound dog or a 5-pound cat cannot tolerate and process more than a small quantity of alcoholic beverages. You must protect against your pet gaining access to garbage while out trick-or-treating with the family as coffee grounds and coffee beans can also be dangerous for pets. Most garbage can contain toxic bacteria such as Salmonella or coliform bacteria that can cause digestive distress, vomiting and diarrhea. If you suspect your pet has gotten into a potentially poisonous substance, call your veterinarian immediately. Have the telephone number to your local emergency animal hospital readily available, as well as the number for the Pet Poison Helpline.
Pet costumes have become a universal fad during Halloween. If you dress your pet in a costume, be sure that it doesn’t interfere with the pet’s ability to breathe, see, hear, move or bark. Also, if your dog is going to accompany you as you trick-or-treat, be sure to purchase reflective collars or body gear for both pets and people. Each year people and pets are hit by vehicles walking on dark streets and at dark intersections. The clothing that makes up the costume 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 strings and buttons. Glow sticks that make up part of the costumes of children during Halloween 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 is important to keep these items out of reach from your pet.
Halloween can be a fun and enjoyable time for all family members, including the pets, if certain precautions are taken. Halloween can bring stress to all of us, and pets are no exception. When routines are disrupted and new activities occur, your pet may be effected the most. Plan ahead and take necessary precautions to protect your pets from the hazards of Halloween. Your pets will appreciate it if the stress is minimized and the trips to the animal hospital will save both time and money.
Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661