Updated: Oct 6, 2019
It’s that time of year in North Florida when the days start to cool off, the mornings get crisper, and the scent of pumpkin spice is in the air. Summer is slowly giving way to Fall, and that means Halloween is around the corner! As with any holiday, it’s a lot of fun to involve our pets in the festivities in creative ways. They can sense and share in our enjoyment, even if they don’t quite understand exactly what is going on! Now admittedly, when I think of Halloween “Pet Safety” is not be the first thing that comes to mind. But as a former ER veterinarian, I would like to share a few thoughts on Halloween safety issues with my fellow dog owners. As we prepare our costumes, Jack O’ Lanterns, candy stashes, scarecrows and party plans, let’s make sure this Halloween is safe for Sparky, too!
Our pets are cute every day, but it is a scientific fact that they are even cuter in a pet Halloween costume! Whether you spend hours handcrafting a work of art worthy of first place in the pet costume contest, or throw a plain white T-shirt on Sparky and call him “Ghost Dog,” a few safety guidelines are good to remember. First, make sure your pet can BREATHE in the costume. Our companion animals can’t sweat, so they need to be able to breathe easily to regulate their body temperature. Anything that constricts the neck or obstructs the flow of air around the nose or mouth could cause severe overheating, especially with short-snouted breeds like English bulldogs and Boston terriers. Second, choose the right MATERIAL. Costume material should be light, breathable, fairly small and well-fitting. Heavy material could trap too much heat around your dog, and large baggy costumes can impede movement causing stress, or get snagged causing a strangulation risk. Third, consider the risk of INGESTION. Ripped up fabric and accessories can cause a choking or obstruction risk if swallowed by Sparky. Make sure your pet does not eat their costume by choosing one without long stringy attachments and small pieces.
Chocolate was one a frequent cause of visits to the emergency room when I was an emergency room veterinarian. Of course we intend to keep all Halloween goodies out of Fido’s reach, but accidents can happen. Too many sweets can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis, but chocolate is potentially even worse. Specifically, dogs can’t handle two compounds that are present in chocolate: theobromines and methylxanthines. These compounds have a strong stimulant effect to dogs and can cause hyperactivity, tremors, irregular heartbeat, and even seizures and death. Milk chocolate has the fewest amount of these compounds, dark chocolate has more, and unsweetened or baking chocolate has the most. If an accident happens and Sparky gets into the Snickers, don’t panic. Call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661 and tell them what happened. There is a small fee but they will give you the best advice. They will ask how much your dog weighs and how much and what type of chocolate he might have eaten. If there is a toxic potential, they will let you know what to expect and direct you to a veterinarian for treatment (typically we induce vomiting, give activated charcoal and IV fluids, and hospitalize for supportive care and monitoring). If the amount is nothing to worry about (say, one Hershey’s kiss for a big 90 pound Lab), they will tell you what signs to watch for at home and you can both return to the party! Be sure to keep chocolate out of reach to keep your pet safe.
We humans enjoy being scared by a good haunted house or spooky costume, but when it gets too scary we can just remind ourselves that it’s not real. Our pets can also be scared, but they can’t always recognize the lack of danger. Some dogs are very wary and fearful of people in masks or strange attire, and might not even recognize family or people they know in costume. Add in the fact that the doorbell might be ringing constantly with children running and screaming to and fro, and even the calmest dog could get a little unsettled. If your dog it getting too scared, it may display sudden unexpected aggression, or even run away. Even if your dog does not physically react, prolonged episodes of psychological stress can still lead to physical illness. Remember to watch your dog’s body language for clues as to how he is feeling. If he seems unsure or anxious, remove your costume and give him a calm reassuring place to rest away from the noise and festivities. Sparky will thank you for it the next day!
I hope these tips give you some ideas about how to make this Halloween the best one your dog has ever had! Please message Durbin Creek Animal Hospital on Facebook if you have any specific safety concerns about your own dogs, or cute costume pics to share. If you’re wondering, I will be trick or treating with my kids and Gus “Ghost Dog” McClelland all up and down the neighborhood until we find the house giving out full size Snickers this year. And, until they come out with pumpkin spice flavored Milk Bones, yes it is OK to add a little unsweetened canned pumpkin to Sparky’s dog food as a special Halloween treat. Have a safe and happy Halloween everybody!