October 31st can be a scary night for our furry companions. Strange noises, spooky costumes and intriguing candy smells can bewitch cats and dogs. Keep them safe and happy this year with these tips from Dr. Jim Berry, a New Brunswick veterinarian and vice-president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
Dress them with care
If you plan to dress up your dog or cat for Halloween, Berry advises that you use caution when selecting a costume. ‘Some outfits can interfere with breathing and fit too tight,’ he says. Neck, leg and tail openings should be large enough to allow unrestricted movement. Velcro or elastic fasteners shouldn’t rub, pull or squeeze fur or skin. If your pet is the type that chews and swallows things he shouldn’t, avoid costumes with shiny baubles, little buttons or laces; he could choke, or a life-threatening intestinal obstruction could occur if fabric or plastic is swallowed. Always supervise a costumed pet, and if he seems panicked, remove the outfit immediately.
Take your dog out for his dinnertime walk before the trick-or-treaters come out. You’ll avoid strange costumes that could spook him. ‘Exercise also decreases a dog’s stress and anxiety levels, so when people do come to your door, he won’t be as anxious,’ says Berry.
Avoid fire hazards
Blazing jack-o’-lanterns don’t mix with wagging tails or curious paws. Inquisitive pets can easily knock them over, sparking a fire. Cats may stick their paws into the pumpkin’s openings, trying to swat the dancing flames. ‘If there are candles in your jack-o’-lantern, keep your pets away in a different room,’ says Berry. Even better, use battery-operated candles.
Candy isn’t dandy
For pets, sweet treats can be poisonous. Berry recommends keeping kids’ Halloween haul away from curious dogs and cats. Pets find the smell of candy enticing and if they digest chocolate, sugar or xylitol (a sugar-free candy sweetener), it can trigger serious diarrhea, vomiting, shaking and behavioural changes. Even a bag of potato chips, with its high salt and fat content, can make your pet ill. Foil wrappers and the plastic that covers candy apples could cause choking and intestinal blockage. ‘If your pet has gotten into the Halloween bag and is not acting right, call your emergency vet service right away,’ says Berry. They’ll inform you whether it’s necessary to rush your pet to see a veterinarian.
Create a safe room inside
Continuous knocking or doorbell chimes can be alarming, causing pets to run away, become aggressive, or suffer from stress-induced vomiting and diarrhea. Keep them in a quiet room away from the action. If your dog is particularly bothered by noise, a Thundershirt may help to calm his nerves; for cats, try a Calming Collar (see below). ‘Both products are safe and easy to use,’ says Berry. ‘Many of the [pet-calming] drugs on the market aren’t reliable and have side effects. These products are a good alternative.’ Your pet will feel safe, and visiting trick-or-treaters will, too.