Halloween Safety Tips for Pets

By: Alex Betzen, DVM

TVMA Member
Houston, TX.

Published October 2015

Halloween is right around the corner! While you’re finishing up the decorating, costumes and preparations for all the trick-or-treaters, let’s spend a few minutes discussing how to make Halloween safe and happy for your pets.

Beware of Certain Foods

While all forms of chocolate can be a cause for concern, baking and dark chocolates are especially dangerous. Dogs cannot metabolize the caffeine and caffeine-associated compounds in the chocolate, leading to its effects on their cardiovascular and neurologic systems. The high fat content in chocolate can cause inflammation of the pancreas, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. It is important to remember that artificial sweeteners, such as xylitol, are also dangerous to dogs. Xylitol causes the release of insurance, resulting in dangerously low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can cause seizures and is life-threatening. Be careful with sugar-free gum and other artificially sweetened treats. Also, there is no antidote for xylitol poisoning, which means it can be fatal.

Halloween Decorations

Some Halloween decorations can mimic mouthwatering morsels your dog or cat may want to ingest. Decorative corn, pumpkins, seasonal flowers and other decorations aren’t always directly toxic but can cause an upset stomach and act as foreign bodies that can block the intestine and need to be surgically removed. Pumpkins with candles can be easily knocked over by pets. Use caution when leaving pets unattended by open flames. In addition, candles are also toxic.

Many of us like to place some decorative lighting in the house to create a festive mood, but Feisty Fido may want to take a nibble on the cords. Electrical burns in the mouth are painful and can require placing a feeding tube. Glow-sticks are very popular during this time of the year as well. While the liquids in glow-sticks are rarely toxic, they do taste bad. Greedy the German Shepherd could drool and feel sick for several hours if she ingests the liquid.

Canine costumes and feline formal wear are growing in popularity. Dachshunds in hotdog buns, bumblebee bulldogs and clown cats are all excellent ideas; however, not all dogs and cats enjoy being dressed up. Unnecessary stress can happen, despite our best intentions, so have a trial run with your pet’s costume. If Piggy the Pug doesn’t want to be dressed as a pirate, you may need to find other ways to celebrate. If your dog does enjoy wearing a costume, make sure there are not any small pieces, dangling items, sharp points or constricting areas. Most veterinarians have seen animals in constricting materials that have caused severe injuries. Costumes can cause foreign bodies that may require surgical removal too. Given the warm weather, be aware that pets in costumes may overheat when going to parties or making the trick-or-treat rounds with you.

Strangers May Scare Pets

One of my favorite parts of Halloween is getting to see all the different costumes and the excitement from the trick-or-treaters! Children love to show off their new costumes. Too many strangers in a short period of time can be stressful to some animals, and even the best-trained and sweetest dogs can be scared by strangers in costumes. Your dog or cat may even act aggressively. During busiest hours, Frankie the feline may need to be in a separate room, even if he is normally social. This is especially true if you have a shy or cautious animal.

Animals Can Be Escape Artists

Make sure Dodgy the dog doesn’t dart out the door when you open it! Keeping IDs (collars, tags and microchips) on your animals can help return them safely should they escape. Outdoor-only animals may need to be placed inside during times when children are trick-or-treating. In addition, outdoor pets could startle children, and they could injure themselves or the children in the process. Outdoor cats, especially black ones, have unfortunately been involved in cruelty-related incidents on or around Halloween. Minimize the risk by keeping them inside for several days before and after the haunted holiday.

While Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year, there are several important factors to consider for our pets. Decorations and treats are often toxic, costumes and strangers can be scary, and costumes can be constricting and may cause overheating. Keeping these things in mind can help you and your pet have a Happy Halloween!

Alex Betzen, DVM, is a graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, who practices at Westbury Animal Hospital in Houston, Texas.