While Halloween is one of the most fun-filled nights of the year for many adults and children, unfortunately for our pets, it can be a dangerous time.
Dr. Kate Zimmerman is a veterinarian with Tri-County Veterinary Hospital in Bluff City and says with a little planning and a whole lot of common sense, Halloween doesn’t have to pose a risk to our beloved four-legged friends.
“The bottom line is, if everyone wants to be happy at Halloween, you need to make sure your pets are safe,” she said. “Halloween should be a happy time, but many people don’t think about the risks to pets. And there are a bunch.” Zimmerman says the number one thing pet owners should do is keep their pets inside — especially dogs weighing less than 20 pounds and all cats.
“Cats disappear every year at Halloween. This is one of the darker sides of Halloween. Black cats, especially, are not safe. But any cat may be unsafe. Cats need to be kept indoors usually starting three or four days before Halloween and three or four days after Halloween. There are crazy people out there. If you want your kitty to be safe, keep him or her in,” she said.
On Halloween night, Zimmerman recommends keeping your dogs locked in another room or in a crate.
“When you have trick-or-treaters coming to your door, you need your dog to be some place away from them. Costumes can make even the most placid and predictable dog unpredictable. You have a number of things there that can really provoke bad behavior in dogs. First of all, the costumes look freaky. Second of all, most of these costumes reek of plastics, so, they smell bad to the dogs. Then you have these very unpredictable children jumping up and down and screaming and yelling, which if you have a dog that has any kind of predatory instinct — and most of them do — all of this can make your dogs a little overexcited,” she said.
Consider all of this from a dog’s perspective, Zimmerman adds.
“We have a thing that smells strange and is making loud, squeaky noises come to the door, screech and yell and then turn and leave, often in a run. This becomes a huge predatory instinct for dogs to run right at them. Even a normally placid dog that wouldn’t dream of doing anything stupid, could suddenly become vicious because they are confused,” she said. “This is why dogs need to be kept up on Halloween.”
Zimmerman suggests you get your dogs used to your children’s costumes before Halloween night.
“Work with the dog and the kid when it comes to costumes. If they are dressed up as some horrific creature with claws or big paws and they decide to take a swipe at your dog, your very trusting dog in normal circumstances may turn around and bite. This happens every year. Educate both adults and children how to act around dogs while they’re in costume. Stay calm and do not do anything crazy,” she said.
And at the end of the night, when your child comes home with all that yummy candy, Zimmerman says to make sure you keep it out of reach of both dogs and cats. Chocolate in particular is toxic to pets. Candies and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause serious problems in dogs.
“A lot of people like to leave their candy on a table, but if you’ve got a cat or a large dog, the table’s no impediment. The trick-or-treat candies smell very, very appealing. I recommend putting your candy on top of the refrigerator or in a cabinet to keep it away from pets,” she said.
If your dog or cat is agreeable to wearing a costume, and many are, Zimmerman says to never leave them alone while they have it on.
“If you’re not supervising the animal, the costume needs to come off because, yes, they can, and will eat them. You wouldn’t leave a toddler in a costume without having close supervision. Don’t ever leave a pet in a costume without close supervision,” she said.
Make sure the costume does not constrict the animal’s movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow. Also, be sure to try on costumes before the big night. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows abnormal behavior, consider ditching the costume and donning a festive bandana instead. And remember to take a closer look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that he could choke on. Keep in mind that ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.
The ASPCA also offers the following Halloween safety tips for pets:
• Popular Halloween plants such as pumpkins and decorative corn are considered to be relatively nontoxic, but they can produce stomach upset in pets who nibble on them.
• Wires and cords from electric lights and other decorations should be kept out of reach of your pets. If chewed, your pet might suffer cuts or burns, or receive a possibly life-threatening electrical shock.
• Exercise caution if you choose to add a candle to your jack-o’-lantern. Pets can easily knock a lighted pumpkin over and cause a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames.
• Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned to you.