Halloween is a wonderful time of make-believe allowing humans of all ages to use their imaginations to create costumes, doorscapes, and spooky parties. It can, however, become a frightful time for dogs. These are my tips to ensure a safe and fun time for the furry members of your home.
1. Guard the candy. Many candies contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which is poisonous to dogs since even a small amount can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar and subsequent loss of coordination and seizures. Then there’s the chocolate candies that can be lethal for dogs causing vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures. Make sure any family members or guests understand they cannot feed your dog any treats without your permission. If your dog joins your trick-or-treaters making the rounds be sure you stay alert and he knows the ‘leave it’ command in the event he finds something he wants to eat on the ground.
Be sure to have important numbers such as your vet, ER vet, and the ASPCA poison control hotline where you can easily access them if needed.
2. Dressing your pet in a costume. It’s fun dressing our pets up in costumes but this should only be done if they are comfortable wearing them. It's a good idea to try on the costumes beforehand to address any problems and let your pet get accustomed to it. A lot of the costumes also now have hats. I practice with Kirby in five minute intervals using treats for any new outfits or props. Focused on the treats he quickly forgets about what he's wearing. If your dog is just too unhappy then consider leaving off the head piece or even foregoing the costume for a festive bandana.
Make sure it isn’t constricting as to hinder movement and the ability to breathe comfortably or too loose as to cause them to get tangled up and trip. Make sure your pet can see well while wearing the costume and remove or strongly secure any loose or small pieces that can be ingested. Look for breathable and fire retardant materials. Choose light-colored costumes for best visibility by others since black is very hard to see in the dark and would be extremely difficult to recognize on a black dog.
By the third time Kirby has tossed his hat or head dress off which can be ten minutes or an hour, I just put it away. When I notice Kirby getting tired or appearing uncomfortable I replace his costume with a festive bandana. He needs to have an enjoyable experience or he's not going to want to do it again.
Finally keep in mind the necessary potty breaks making sure the costume doesn't cover the wrong area leading to a smelly wet underside.
3. Know your dog’s reaction to strangers dressed in costumes. People just don't look normal in costumes. If this is something that frightens your dog, put him in a secure room away from all the action. Close the window drapes and turn on a tv or radio. The same goes for aggressive or territorial dogs who may become anxious and growl or possibly bite trick-or-treaters.
4. Prepare for the constant opening and closing of the front door. If you feel your dog can easily adapt to the festivities then still remember strangers can excite your dog. The trick I use to keep Kirby safe is hooking his collar to a leash and slipping the looped handle under the coffee table leg which is heavy enough that he can’t move it. This way he gets to be with us enjoying all the action but can’t get near the door. I don’t have to worry about chasing him into the street or suddenly realizing he is missing. You could also use a baby gate for the entryway if it is secure enough to not be knocked down.
5. Beware of potential hazards. When decorating make sure to use non-toxic materials in case your dog decides to take a nibble out of that intriguing spiderweb or tombstone. If you use candles for pumpkins and around the house for atmosphere, consider using battery-powered LED candles instead of the real ones which can get knocked over and start a fire, or worse, burn your dog.
6. Use a harness when walking your dog. If you taking your dog with you trick-or-treating and he gets spooked a harness is a better choice than a collar which they can pull out of much easier. We learned this the hard way at an inside market festival when Kirby was terrified by a loud hand dryer. In seconds he pulled out of his collar and took off running through the crowd in the opposite direction. Hearing me yelling his name, he finally stopped. We've used the harness ever since using his collar for his id tag only.
7. Don't leave your pets outside on Halloween. There have been enough news stories of animals being teased, injured, and killed on Halloween night to realize there are cruel people in this world. Don’t take the chance of your pet becoming another heart wrenching story. Even for short potty breaks in our fenced backyard I keep an eye on Kirby.
8. Use up-to-date identification tags. I know many owners remove their dog’s collars when they are home. This is a night they need to be wearing their collars with an ID tag listing their name and your telephone number in the event they do escape and become lost since having the proper identification will increase the chances that they get back home.
Final Note. I have two cats so I need to add this final warning. Keep your cats inside several days before and after Halloween. Black cats are especially at risk from pranks or other cruelty-related incidents prompting many shelters to not even adopt out black cats during the month of October as a safety precaution.
Just for fun check out Kirby's Halloween photo shoot back in 2011.