How to Prep Your Pets for All Things Halloween

October 31st doesn't have to be scary for your cat or dog.
By: Rachel Semigran
Dogs at Halloween.

Halloween is one of the most fun holidays of the year. It’s full of tricks, treats, and things that go bump in the night. As spook-tastic as it is to have costume parties and give out candy to neighborhood ghouls, Halloween can be a dangerous time for pets. With all of the visitors ringing the doorbell and sweets galore, October 31st is a day to take extra care for your canine and feline friends. To have a monstrously good time this Halloween with your pets, take these tips into consideration: 

Keeping Your Cats and Dogs Stress-Free For Halloween

“Anything that’s a deviation—new food, a new environment, or a change in their parents’ schedule can cause stress for a pet, especially in cats,” says Dr. Aimee Simpson, the Medical Director of the VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia. Halloween is full of new sights, sounds, and people that may cause your cat or dog to hide away in fear. The experts at the ASPCA recommend keeping your pets safely in a room that’s separated from trick-or-treaters or party guests. Set them up with their favorite toys, beds, and enough to eat and drink while the spooky festivities are underway. If your cat is extra skittish, Dr. Simpson recommends using pheromone diffusers like Feliway as they, “simulate the hormones that cats deposit when they’re happy.”

How To Keep Barking To A Minimum

On Halloween night, you can expect to hear a chorus of dogs barking in your neighborhood. With so many doorbells ringing and guests at the door, pups are likely to pipe up more than usual. It’s likely that your dog is trying to warn danger or express the anxiety they are under with their excessive barking. To help temper the behavior, try soothing pets in between trick-or-treaters. Or, if possible, have a member of the family stay with the dog while the Halloween hub-bub is under way. Negative reactions like loud sounds to scare them away will only temporarily stop the behavior. Positive reinforcement is key—reward them when they stop barking rather than punishing them when they do.

Things To Consider When Opening The Door To Trick-Or-Treaters and Guests

With the constant opening and closing of the door on Halloween, it’s easy for a frisky feline or curious pooch to slip out unnoticed.  If you have the option in your home to keep your animals safely away from the front door, it’s the safest route to take. Dr.  Debbie Mandell of Penn Vet’s Emergency Service notes, “Keep dogs and cats in a separate room [then] you then don’t have the risk of them getting out every time.”

However, if you prefer to allow your pet to roam freely on Halloween, you may want to take some precautions. Gail Buchwald, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA Adoption Center suggests, “Be sure that your pet is always wearing a collar with ID tags, should he or she accidentally get loose.”

Having guests in the home also increases the risk of dog bites. No matter how well-behaved your pup may be, the stress of Halloween may cause them to bite at well-meaning witches and goblins. If you are having guests over or a trick-or-treater wants to approach your dog, make sure they do so with caution. Jim Crosby, a canine aggression and behavior expert and retired Police Lieutenant recommends to “First ask permission to approach a dog, you don’t know what baggage a dog has or what its experiences are. He adds, “If you want to give them something to smell, close your hand and give them the back of the fist and let the dog come to you. If the dog’s not comfortable with it, don’t push it.”

Similarly, cats shouldn’t be forced to socialize on Halloween if they are not comfortable with it. The Ohio State University’s Veterinary School Indoor Cat Initiative’s research has shown that, “Having new people in the home can be confusing and frightening for your cat. A refuge will help the cat feel safe and provide a place to for her to retreat to when household activities are hectic. Allow the cat to approach guests if she wants to but never force her to interact with new people. Make sure that guests respect the privacy of your cat’s refuge.”

Bits and Bobs To Avoid

As it turns out, dogs may have even less self-control than us humans when it comes to consuming all of those fun-size candies. Dr. Mandell remarks, “Dogs will eat entire bags of Halloween candy, so making sure that that is out of reach is very, very important.” Chocolate is toxic for both dogs and cats— the candy also offers the bonus threat of wrappers, which, if consumed, can cause a potential obstruction in your pet’s intestines. Keeping the plastic pumpkin full of sweets away from your furry friends is crucial on Halloween.

Along with the giant bowl of skull-shaped chocolates, Halloween decor and party favors also pose a potential threat to your pets. As Dr. Simpson points out, cats have an extra special affinity for all things string and “even when they are playing with string, cats have a tendency to swallow the whole thing.” So all of those fake cobwebs and orange twinkly lights are prime prey for your cat.

Another Halloween trinket to consider keeping out of your pet’s paws are glow sticks, which, according to Dr. Mandell are attractive to pets, especially cats, and are very toxic if the liquid inside is ingested.

Keep Your Pet’s Health and Happiness In Mind With Costumes

Sure, your pet may look A-STINKIN-DORABLE as a furry little Yoda, but those mini-costumes may cause more distress to your pet than enjoyment. As the ASPCA recommends, “make sure the costume does not limit their movement, hearing, sight or ability to breathe, bark, eat, drink or go to the bathroom.” If your pet looks miserable in the costume, they probably are…unless your cat is Grumpy Cat, of course. If you’re going to embarrass your pet with a Halloween get up, just make sure you do it together.

To have the best Halloween with your pets, keep their comfort in mind, make sure all potential food hazards are put safely away (don’t hide your candy stash under the bed), and be sure to decorate your haunted house with pet-friendly items.

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