By Lindsay Pollard-Post
During a recent afternoon walk, my normally easygoing canine companion, Pete, suddenly froze in his tracks. The hair on his neck shot up, and he let out a low, wary growl. It was as if he’d seen a ghost. And he had, sort of. Three of them dangled from a neighbor’s tree, their gauzy, white material rippling and dancing in the breeze. After some reassuring words, Pete decided that the specters were just a spectacle and went back to sniffing trees. But the encounter was a reminder that to animals, our Halloween festivities can be scary, indeed—and sometimes even perilous.
A parade of costumed goblins, princesses and superheroes at the door can make even the friendliest dogs and cats skittish and prone to bolting outside—or even biting a child they mistake for an intruder. Prevent real-life horror on Halloween by keeping your animals in a quiet room away from the front door during trick-or-treat time and staying with them as much as you can. The same applies if you’re hosting a bash. And do your dogs a favor: Walk them earlier in the day, before the streets fill with kids on a quest for candy—don’t drag them along trick-or-treating. They can be easily frightened by the commotion and even get loose and run off.
Always ensure that your animal companions are microchipped and wearing collars with current ID tags, just in case. But please don’t subject them to the stress of being dressed up. Many dogs and most cats feel nervous and uncomfortable when forced to wear clothes. Costumes can impair their ability to see, move and breathe, and they can even choke or strangle if they attempt to eat small parts from costumes or become entangled in them. Leave dress-up to the kids (or adults, if you’re so inclined), and let animals be their naturally adorable selves.
Decorations help set a festive mood, but they can be hazardous to curious noses and paws. Jack-o’-lanterns and candles can burn animals (and kids) or start fires if tipped over. The ink that is used in some brightly colored decorations, such as orange streamers and paper pumpkins, is toxic to animals—and swallowed balloons or party favors can block their digestive tract—so keep all these holiday accoutrements out of reach.
Many animals can’t resist sampling treats—wrappers and all—that contain toxic ingredients such as chocolate, raisins, xylitol or macadamia nuts. Keep all candies and other Halloween treats out of their reach, and make sure that kids and guests know not to share such goodies with them. If you suspect that your animal companion has swallowed something toxic, contact your veterinarian or an animal poison hotline immediately so you’ll know what to do if you see any symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, not defecating or straining to defecate, agitation, increased thirst or seizures. Time is of the essence when it comes to treating for poison, so don’t delay getting to an emergency veterinarian if it seems warranted.
While most people enjoy Halloween in fun ways, real evil does lurk outside, especially this time of year. People have intentionally let dogs out of backyards, poked at them through fences and even pelted them with eggs. Black cats are unfairly associated with dark forces and frequently targeted by cruel people. Protect your animals by keeping them indoors on Halloween (and always) and letting them out for fresh air and exercise only on a leash and harness or in a safe, fenced area, under supervision. If you see stray animals, take them to an open-admission shelter or call animal control for help.
A good scare on Halloween can be fun, but no one wants to be haunted by the memory of a beloved animal companion who was sickened, injured or even killed during the festivities. Following these simple precautions will help ensure that Halloween is a treat, not a trick, for everyone.