By: Cate Burnette

Halloween can be great fun for children and families. But families with pets often face the challenge of dealing with stressed and frightened animals that don’t understand what is happening when people in strange clothes show up at the door one frosty October evening.

How can pet parents protect our dogs and cats from the anxiety and dangers of Halloween? We’ve got some ideas that may make this holiday season a bit more peaceful for you and your furry companions.

Pay attention to open doors.

If your pet is one that reacts with every knock on the door or ring of the bell, visiting trick-or-treaters can be especially stressful for both you and furry companion. Luckily, there are ways to lessen that “front door anxiety.”

Training your dog to not overreact to strangers at your door is not something that you can easily do in the week leading up to the big night, however, for the time being, you can leave a note on your dog warning visitors to ignore the barking dog. Something along the lines of “Please pay no attention to the dog, he is in training” might work for the immediate future, but you’ll need to prepare ahead for next time.

Start working with your pup now so that visiting with friends and family during the upcoming winter holidays can be a pleasant and happy experience for all concerned. The North Shore Animal League of America has some good advice on how to teach your dog appropriate behavior when people come to the door. Renowned dog trainer Victoria Stillwell also gives great tips for the same problem in this video.

Crate your pet for the evening to protect both dogs and cats from becoming stressed and attempting to escape out the door when you’re giving out Halloween treats. Place the crate in a quiet room away from foot traffic to give your companion ample opportunity to decompress. Make sure you leave a favorite toy and free choice water in the crate and, in the case of your cat, place a small litter pan in the kennel for potty times.

If crating is not an option, leave your animal in a quiet room with a closed door to provide him or her with the same sense of peace and safety found in a crate.

Keep both dogs and cats on leashes or harnesses inside the house on Halloween as a way to gently restrain them from leaping on visitors or running out of the house when the opportunity arises.

Don’t leave pets out in the yard on Halloween.

We’ve all read the stories about vicious people teasing, maiming and even killing pets on Halloween. Leaving your dog out in the yard on Halloween night can be an open invitation to sociopaths to hurt your pet. Bring both dogs and cats inside to protect them against such human predators.

If you have outdoor cats, keep them inside in a quiet, safe room several days before and after Halloween when possible. Black cats, in particular, are especially at risk from pranks and cruelty-related incidents during this time period. Many rescues and shelters refuse to adopt out black cats during the month of October as a safety precaution.

Teach both your pets to enjoy spending “alone” time in their crates and kennel them during the times when visitors come to the door. Crate training tips for both dogs and cats can be found online. You can also find good cat training advice in our blog “Taking Your Cat To The Vet.”

Keep your dog on a leash if you must take your pet outside.

If you choose to take your dog with you while trick-or-treating with your children, ensure your pet is fully leashed and/or harnessed for safety reasons.

Remember, your city or county may have leash laws in effect that require all animals be under the “direct physical control of their owners,” according the website of the Willumsen Law Firm, P.C. in Houston. While there is no statewide leash law in Texas, your pet may be subject to such ordinances in your area. If your dog is unleashed in an area where it is required and your animal injures someone, your pet may be subject to being impounded, and you, as the owner, may be liable for any injuries caused by an attack.

For extra precaution, you can check with your local pet store or go online and purchase leashes/harnesses with special LED lighting that allows other dog walkers and car drivers to see your pet when out after dark.

Don’t costume your pet unless you know they’ll love it.

Nobody likes to wear clothes that are uncomfortable and that includes your cat or dog. Try on the pet costume before the big night to ensure that it fits well, without constricting movement or the inability to see. Make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe and your pet is still able to bark or meow. Some other costuming tips include:

  • Ensure the costume is highly visible and reflective for drivers in your area.
  • Check for loose ends and hanging parts of the costume that can be eaten or caught in paws or teeth.
  • Don’t pick a costume that is too heavy, too tight or otherwise constrictive.
  • Use a leash under the costume at all times.
  • Make sure your pet has the appropriate ID and rabies tags attached to the collar.

If your pup or kitty appears distressed, annoyed, allergic or shows some kind of abnormal behavior, consider leaving the costume at home and going “au naturel” during Halloween.

What about the candy?

That bowl of candy is for trick-or-treaters, not for your pet. Chocolate in all forms – especially dark or baking chocolate – can be very dangerous, even lethal, for dogs and cats. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures.

Candies and/or gums containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems. Even a small amount of xylitol can cause vomiting, a sudden drop in blood sugar, an acute loss of coordination, liver failure and seizures. Symptoms of xylitol toxicity can occur within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion.

Additionally, digesting candy wrappers—with or without treats inside—can wreak havoc on a cat or dog’s digestive system and can potentially lead to serious problems.

According to Los Angeles-based veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber (CBS Morning News), “If the wrapper is small, it is likely that the pet will pass the wrapper as a part of the digestion process, however, depending on the size of your pet (and if the wrapper is large), eating a candy wrapper can cause a blockage or obstruction and persistent vomiting.” Dr. Werber also notes that there is a chance that a candy wrapper can adhere to the lining of your pet’s stomach, which can be difficult to diagnose because it does not always show up on an X-ray.

What to do in case of emergency?

If you do suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your veterinarian immediately, run to your local emergency pet clinic or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Have a safe and happy Halloween from your friends at VIP Pet Services!

Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.