"Between trick-or-treaters and elaborate costumes masking the identity of their favorite people, Halloween can be a tough time for dogs who just aren't equipped for this type of excitement," says Rob Jackson, CEO and cofounder of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. "Before setting out bowls full of off-limits treats and opening the door to a parade of little goblins and ghouls, it's important to proactively manage your pet in order to keep everyone safe and happy."
Let's examine some of the most common Halloween hazards and how to help your furry friend through them.
“A little planning goes a long way toward keeping pets safe and healthy in their homes on Halloween,” says PawsPR founder and pet expert Patricia Jones. To get started on your game-plan, let's examine some of the big hazards that you can control in the days before the holiday:
Candy and wrappers
"Keep Halloween candy and other fall treats out of reach," advises Jackson. "Fall usually means more chocolate and candy in the home. Pet parents should ensure that they're keeping treats put away and out of reach. Candy, especially chocolate which is toxic to both dogs and cats, poses a hazard to curious pets with a sweet tooth. Xylitol, contained in many sugar-free foods, gum and toothpaste, is especially toxic."
"Candy is not safe for dogs," emphasizes Steffi Trott, owner and head trainer at SpiritDog Training in Albuquerque, NM. "While one gummy bear will probably not hurt your pup, many types of candy contain chocolate which is notoriously dangerous for dogs to ingest."
Just because candy comes packaged doesn't mean that it is safe. Trott explains, "Dogs can tear through plastic packaging easily. Keep candy far away from your pooch. That means putting it into a safe cupboard, on top of your fridge, or your pantry that the dog has no access to. Don't underestimate his abilities to try and get to food once he knows it is there! Before you leave the house after grocery shopping for candy, always make sure everything is put away securely."
Even empty candy wrappers present a hazard to pets. Jones suggests that you make sure to clean up: "Discarded candy wrappers and treat bags and enticing to animals, but they can cause choking and intestinal blockages." These blockages can mean a costly trip to the vet and can even be deadly to your pup. Jones adds, "If you think your dog has accidentally ingested something from the candy bowl, call the Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661."
"Dogs are a lot less coordinated at times than we might think," says Trott. "They tend to especially be confused by new additions to your home, such as Halloween decorations. They can get tangled in lights, throw over ceramic pumpkins or try and eat scented candles. Supervise your dog closely to make sure he does not hurt himself on decorations or try to ingest them."
Many Americans love decorating for Halloween. However, your spooky (or just cute) Halloween decor may be dangerous to your dog friends. Here's some advice to help you celebrate the fall season while ensuring that your dog can too.
The common staple is the Jack-o-Lantern. These can be a hazard in a few different ways.
Do you decorate with real pumpkins or just the storebought pre-wired ones?
If you keep actual pumpkins, be aware that it could be eaten. "Dogs that are food-driven, such as Labradors, will eat anything and everything," advises Trott. "While a little bit of pumpkin won't hurt your dog, it is important that your dog does not go to town trying to eat a whole Jack-o-Lantern. He cannot digest large quantities of raw vegetables like that and feel very sick."
"Keep an eye on your doggo around Halloween decor — especially jack-o-lanterns with candles, or any festive lights with wiring," advises Renaldo Webb, founder of PetPlate.com. "Curious puppers might end up chewing on wires or knocking over candles."
Dr. Rachel Barrack is a licensed veterinarian with additional certifications in both veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbology. She warns, "If chewed, live electrical cords can cause oral burns, seizures and even death. Make sure to keep holiday lighting unplugged and out of reach when pets are unsupervised."
Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM Integrative Veterinarian suggests keeping "wires and electric cords taped securely to the floor or covered so your pet doesn't chew them and risk burning his mouth or getting an electric shock."
Depending on how you light your jack-o-lantern, it can be a different risk. "But once you light the candle, make sure that your dog keeps his distance," says Amy Tokic is the Editor-In-Chief of PetGuide.com. "You don't want him to get burned or knock it over in his excitement to investigate this interesting decoration."
Jones suggests that you go with a battery-powered candle, rather than an open flame. "Jack-o-lanterns and creepy candelabras are essential in a haunted house, but these days battery-powered candles look like the real thing and won't singe the whiskers of curious pets." Using flashlights instead of candles can also help avoid an accidental fire if a pet tips over your jack-o-lantern, advises Darlene Hernandez-Geekie, RVT, from a nonprofit The Little Angels Project.
If they look too real, Halloween "Decorations might look tasty," reminds Krystn Janisse, from Homes Alive Pets. "A fake bone could be mistaken for a real one, and letting your pet chew on or eat it could result in your pet getting sick. Make sure that your household Halloween decorations are out of reach. The last thing you need is to end up at the emergency vet on Halloween night because your dog swallowed the plastic nose from your witch costume."
Renaldo Webb, founder of PetPlate.com meal delivery service shares, "We'll admit it — we love a pup in costume. However, if you plan to dress up your doggo this year, keep their comfort and personality in mind. Some pups are happy to wear a costume all night, while others might find it stressful. Avoid any outfits that restrict their movement, and pay attention to their reactions when they try an outfit on!"
"Dressing up is fun as long as your pet enjoys it and the costume is safe," says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic. In addition to restricting movement, she cautions that pet costumes shouldn't hinder your pet's breathing, hearing, or sight. She adds, "For pets who prefer their “birthday suits,” wearing a costume can be very stressful."
If you can't resist the sight of your adorable dog in a costume, follow these tips:
- Don't be too pushy — "If your dog doesn't want to play dress-up, don't force them," advises Jones. "If you have a patient pet, make sure costumes allow freedom of movement and don't obstruct vision or breathing.
- Choose carefully — "Make sure costumes are safe and don't have items that can be swallowed or ties that can catch on items and get them hung up," advises Hernandez-Geekie.
- Avoid human cosmetics — "Do not use human dyes or makeup on your pets as they may contain toxic ingredients," Hernandez-Geekie adds.
- Make sure it fits — "If you are taking your dog with you trick or treating," suggests Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinary consultant with doglab.com, "make sure that there is nothing on their costume to hurt them or that they do not fit properly, and they can get tangled up in their outfit."
- Comfort is key — "If you're dressing your dog up, find a costume they're comfortable in. An uncomfortable dog = a stressed dog," says Candy Pilar Godoy, a pet blogger at boogiethepug.com. For a comfortable DIY costume alternative, check out this cute ShedDefender dog onesie. It has a lightweight, breathable fabric and helps reduce anxiety.
Your best option may be staying at home
Most pet experts we spoke to suggested keeping Fido indoors on All Hallow's Eve.
Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. She helps us put the holiday and its trappings into perspective:
"Halloween may be fun for us, but many dogs find the costumes, decorations, and commotion stressful if not downright terrifying. Wanting to share the night with pets is understandable, but look at it from their point of view. If they'd honestly be happier taking a pass, let them do so. It might even be best to set your dog up in a comfy room behind a closed door or to keep them crated to reduce their anxiety and eliminate the chance that they might escape and become lost or injured."
Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is the CEO of Fun Paw Care, a company that offers puppy dog training in Los Angeles. He shares this wise advice:
"I would caution parents taking dogs trick or treating or to any Halloween parades as it is overly stimulating and not safe.
Remember dogs are scavengers and foragers and will eat anything off the ground. Pair that with candy, chocolate and all sorts of inedible costumes and it makes for a very dangerous concoction.
Lastly, it is vital to remember that dogs see the world as familiar and unfamiliar. Anything unfamiliar is typically scary and very uncomfortable causing dogs to react or even bite. As you can image Halloween is scary and may be traumatic for your dog as all of the unfamiliar costumes and people showing up at your door or on the street."
Ewan McCowen, CEO, of dog treat company Kip & Twiggy's shares his perspective:
"One of the best things you can do for your dog during Halloween is is to get them settled in their own room well in advance of the "trick n treat rush." If the room has a TV, then turn the volume up a bit as the noise will help mask the flurry of activity. Keeping your dog away from the proceeding will prevent them from getting either too excitable or too anxious. It will also make it easier to keep him separate from all the candy!"
Just planning to stay indoors may not be enough to combat the commotion that comes with Halloween festivities. These tips can help you keep your dog cool as a cucumber on the big night:
Try doorbell training
"If you live in a neighborhood that has many trick or treaters coming to your house, please be mindful of your dog during the time of most traffic," says Trott. "I do generally not recommend to let the dog greet everyone at the door. Some kids may be scared of dogs, others might be allergic and some people actually bring their own dogs trick or treating. The last thing you want is a dog fight between your own dog, who feel territorial, and a visitor's dog at the door."
Nicole Ellis is a certified professional dog trainer and a member of the Rover.com Dog People Panel. For dogs that get over-excited when the doorbell rings, Ellis suggests that Halloween, with its plethora of visitors, is a great time to try some doorbell training:
"Before the 31st, teach your dog to go to a bed, mat, or table-like platform like a Klimb near the door.
As the doorbell chimes over and over with excited kids at your door, reward your dog for going to his new place and ask him or her to stay there while handing out the treats to the kids. Reward your pup for staying and try to increase the duration your dog stays there. Once the kids leave and your pet get settles down on his place, tell him it's okay to move."
Consider a trip to grandma's house
"If your dog has high anxiety, consider letting them have a quiet playdate at grandma's or a friend's house," suggests Krystn Janisse from Homes Alive Pets. She adds, "The commotion of trick or treaters may trigger some very destructive and unsafe behaviors."
Get plenty of exercise
Rob Jackson, CEO and cofounder of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance suggests getting plenty of exercise. "Getting your pup good and tired before the barrage of costumed kids is a smart plan. The secret? Don't do this just the day of — take your dog for an extra-long workout up to two days before any big events! This will keep them tired and happy."
Prepare a puppy pillowfort
Amy Tokic is the Editor-in-Chief of PetGuide.com, and a proud dog mom to an adorable Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross named Oscar. She suggests, "With all those strangers coming up to your house and ringing the doorbell, your alert watchdog may drive himself into a tizzy, not to mention that a barking and charging dog may scare your trick or treaters. Your dog may even try to make a break for the great outdoors once you open the door."
Nationally recognized safety expert Debra Holtzman J.D., M.A., agrees. She says, "The safest place for your pet is in a secure area within your home where they won't have a chance to be spooked by strangers or dart outdoors. Remember that even the sweetest animal can act differently in new situations, or even become aggressive when they feel threatened."
To avoid issues, many of our pet experts suggested this tip: Create a safe, quiet room for your dog to hang out in. But it isn't a punishment.
Tokic suggests, "Keep your dog in a quiet, safe room or kennel, equipped with a comfy bed, a few toys, and a family member to reassure him that goblins are not trying to harm you."
Distract to relax
"If the above has failed," Jackson suggests, "try distraction techniques like puzzle toys, one-on-one play, and frozen Kong treat-toys. This type of play will also reinforce to your dog that this time may be stressful but it comes with rewards. Over time, they may just begin to associate Halloween with extra treats for them!
Tips for outside dogs
Is your pet an outside dog? That is generally comfortable in his own environment? You should still consider keeping him safe in an inside space.
Shawn Hostetter, President of Keystone Puppies advises, “No matter how well-trained your dog is, Halloween is a night where you MUST keep them on a leash if you plan to leave them outside. Vicious pranksters have been known to tease, hurt, or even steal pets from yards on Halloween night. It's important to note that being leashed isn't because you can't trust your dog, it's that you can't trust the other people on the streets that night. We recommend keeping dogs of all ages and sizes inside for the night to ensure their safety and your peace of mind.”
Steffi Trott from SpirtDog Training agrees: "I do not recommend to leave your dog in the yard in the evening hours of Halloween. There is much more commotion than usually on the streets, and strange lights and sounds will likely frighten your dog. He might get so scared that he tries to run away. Dogs can scale even very high fences when they are anxious and stressed."
Still planning to take Fido Trick-or-Treating?
If you plan to take your dog out trick-or-treating with your family, how should you prepare?
Dr. Sarah Nold is a staff veterinarian at Trupanion, a pet insurance company. She advises: "Consider your night out and plan for the unexpected. You want to make sure you and your pet can navigate the area safely. For example, pack pet supplies that you might need, like a water bowl, pet first aid kit, doggy bags, and reflective clothing."
Whether you plan to stay in or go out this Halloween, put safety first. Hernandez-Geekie suggests, "Update your pet's microchip and collar tag. Strangers ringing a doorbell in a scary costume can cause a pet to bolt; having updated identification will help get them back."
The bottom line
Above all, listen to your dog and observe its behavior. "Dogs can express their distaste for your humanoid ways in a variety of behaviors that range from anxiety to aggression," says Jackson, "and it's important to set them up for a win instead of expecting them to automatically adapt to whatever your family is up to. Dogs need stability and routines and can react poorly to disruptions especially if they come with the startling sights, sounds, and smells that are quintessential Halloween. Be patient and try to remember that dogs have no idea what we're doing most of the time. A little bit of kindness, a quiet room, and maybe some (xylitol free!) peanut butter could be just the ticket to getting your dog through this very people-oriented holiday."