Halloween pet safety

By Becky Benoit Halloween puppy

Who doesn’t love Halloween? For kids, it’s the one night of the year that combines playing dress-up, staying up past your bedtime and stuffing yourself with sugary treats. Even for adults, there are always the ubiquitous costume parties, opportunities to drink more than acceptable and show off your quirky sense of humour with a costume that only the cool people will really “get.” Is there anybody who doesn’t love Halloween?

Actually, yes, and it’s not that grumpy neighbour who turns off his lights and sits in the dark, refusing to answer the doorbell to trick-or-treaters. For pets, Halloween can means hours of stress, tension and even outright terror.

For dogs, naturally territorial animals, it shouldn’t surprise owners that even the most good-natured dog might view strangers at the door, ringing the doorbell and yelling, as a potential threat. Although it’s unlikely that Fido will lunge after Spiderman or the little girl in the princess costume, your furry friend will likely be stressed and anxious about these possible interlopers on his home turf.

The SPCA offers some sound advice for soothing your pup’s anxiety during the deluge of trick-or-treaters. If possible, confine your dog to a separate room, as far from the front door as possible, and mute the constant ringing of the doorbell by turning on the TV or radio.

It’s also important to be aware of how your dog might react to a startling noise, such as the particularly loud bellow of the neighbour kid dressed as a Transformer. While some dogs might react positively, others might cower and cringe in fear, or even go into full-on panic mode. It’s possible that your pup might try to dig his way frantically out of the room and away from the noise (and potentially, right through your drywall or hardwood), or even bolt out the door.

If your dog seems anxious or stressed, your knee-jerk reaction might be to speak soothingly in a soft, calming voice. Actually, according the SPCA, this might be exactly the wrong thing to do, because this kind of response rewards the fearful behaviour and transmits the message to your dog that you’re frightened too.

Instead, keep your voice cheerful and upbeat, responding to your dog’s fear as if the scary noise were no big deal. Try distracting your dog with toys or a game, and remember that as the pack leader, your dog takes its cues from you – if you look relaxed and confident, your dog will respond in a similar way.

Perhaps your dog is a tail-wagging, tongue-lolling extrovert, the type of laidback fellow who just wants to jump all over those cute little trick-or-treaters and cover them with sloppy doggy kisses. Be aware that most parents, especially those of little Halloweeners, are likely to respond to the sudden appearance of a dog with a knee-jerk protective reaction, even if the dog looks friendly. To avoid an unpleasant confrontation, keep your dog well back from the door and don’t allow him to get within licking distance. Just in case he does bolt for it, make sure your dog is wearing identification tags, a tattoo or a microchip (or all three!).

While cats may seem entirely unperturbed by the chaos of Halloween, they tend to mask their anxiety more so than dogs. Keeping your cat in a separate room with the TV or radio on will help keep kitty calm. Be wary of your cat possibly bolting as well in response to the ringing doorbell and constant parade of strangers.

Chocolate is a big no-no for dogs and cats – the compound theobromine in chocolate is toxic to pets, and these are present in higher concentrations in dark chocolate. Make sure you keep all goodies well out of reach of curious noses and paws.

It’s become a trend in recent years to dress up your dog in a Halloween costume, and while there’s possibly nothing cuter than a weiner dog dressed up in a hot dog bun costume, is it a good idea? The SPCA says probably not – dressing your dog up can inhibit his ability to communicate with other dogs or even people. The inability to sniff or gauge another dog or person’s body language because a costume is in the way could result in a nasty encounter, so if you do dress up your pet, make sure you keep him well away from other animals and small children.