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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

As a holistic veterinarian, my top Halloween pet safety tip is to be aware of and prevent all possible causes of toxicity or trauma. As the primary overseers of our pets’ welfare, we must ensure the safety of our companion animals despite the additional effort, inconvenience, or expense…

Keep Halloween Candy Out of Your Pet’s Reach

Although chocolate is highly concerning for its stimulating effect on dogs, the sugar, fat, and artificial colors and flavors found in Halloween candy (when consumed) can also lead to gastrointestinal illness. National Geographic provides an interactive Chocolate Chart to help dog owners navigate the potential for illness should chocolate be consumed.

For the sake of your pet’s health and your finances, it is always better to avoid toxicity. Keep all holiday edibles out of your pet’s reach. Put your children’s candy stash in sealable plastic containers kept in a location inaccessible to pets.

If your pet does suffer a suspected or known exposure to candy or other toxin, call your veterinarian or a professional toxicity management organization. (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline 800-213-6880)

Be Cautious With Halloween Decorations

Growing up, I always enjoyed carving pumpkins and putting up lights to "spookify" my parents’ home. In my adulthood, I’m more cautious in my approach to holiday decorating.

Although I advocate feeding cooked pumpkin to pets (as it provides a moist, nutrient dense fiber source), a jack-o’-lantern quickly rots and can serve as a mold and bacteria rich curiosity for your pet. Immediately dispose of your pumpkin at the first hint of decay (color change, bad smell, etc.).

Lit candles placed inside a pumpkin or other areas of your home create a fire hazard for both you and your pet (see Ricki Lake Fire Tragedy Teaches Lessons in Pet Emergency Preparedness). Trade candles for battery powered lights in your pumpkin and any room that is frequented by pets.

Electric cords from decorative lights double as an unsafe play toy, especially for cats. Kitty or canine curiosity could lead to life threatening electric shock, heart and lung malfunctions (non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema), or even death.

Dress Your Pet Only in Appropriate Halloween Costumes Under Strict Observation

Some pets readily allow themselves to be adorned in Halloween costumes, while others cower in anticipation of fabric, plastic, or other materials being applied to their bodies. Never force your pet to wear a costume, as the desperate attempt at removal could lead to blunt trauma or strangulation.

Always keep costume tolerating pets under close visual observation. Any or all costume components could be ingested and cause serious gastrointestinal illness (vomit, diarrhea, obstruction, etc.). Strings and extra material should also be trimmed.

Avoid or Reduce Stressful Halloween Situations

Halloween has many stressors that can adversely affect your pet’s behavior: the doorbell repeatedly ringing, doors frequently opening and closing, "trick or treat" being loudly exclaimed, and strangers entering your shared home turf. All the excess stimulation may lead to canine or feline behavior changes, including vocalizing, aggression, pacing, cowering, destroying a confining space, or inappropriate urination or defecation.

If your pet is prone to such behaviors, minimize any stressful triggers. Arrange an overnight stay in a non-Halloween celebrating household. If your pet remains in your home, engage in energy draining activity a few hours before the perceived stressful event. Veterinary recommended natural products or prescription medications can be used on an as needed basis to relieve anxiety or induce a sedated state.

Properly Identify Your Pet

The frequent opening and closing of your door, paired with the excitement surrounding the arrival of costumed revelers, may distract you from your pet’s location.

Runaway pets are more likely to be reconnected with their owners if a collar bearing up to date identification is worn. As collars and tags can fall off or be removed, an implanted microchip can add an extra layer of security. The microchip will be scanned at a veterinary hospital or shelter, but your personal information must be kept up to date with the microchip company to ensure you are contacted.

I greatly appreciate that safer living for pets and peace of mind for pet owners has been established through our ubiquitously present mobile devices. Technological advances now enable us to monitor a pet’s location via GPS, such as with the Tagg Pet Tracker. If your pet travels beyond the established perimeter, you will be notified by text or e-mail.

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Keeping our pets safe from danger is not a topic exclusive to Halloween, as there is much cross over with every other major holiday. Prioritizing pet safety in your daily life will help decrease the likelihood that toxicity or trauma will occur during a holiday.

 Cardiff, in costume.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

P.S. I also have a video of Halloween costume tips at TeddyHilton.com (Perez Hilton's animal themed site). Check it out!

Image: Kelly Richardson / via Shutterstock

Comments  21

Leave Comment
  • Excellent Advice
    10/25/2011 07:26am

    Well said, Dr. Mahaney.

    Hopefully this article will be forwarded to everyone's pet-owning friends.

  • 10/25/2011 12:51pm

    Thank you for your comments!
    I hope that you and your pets have a fun and safe Halloween.
    Any costumes to be worn by pets (or people)?
    Dr PM

  • 10/25/2011 07:46pm


    A friend created bat wings for a kitty that passed in 2002. They were really quite clever. Just a wide band around the belly with a velcro square to fasten it and one on the back. It was simple to attach the one-piece bat wings that also had a velcro square.

    She was NOT pleased.

    No costumes at my house any more. Winston Alexander, the big, black not-so-manly cat, absolutely loved dressing up (the more frills and bling, the better), but he left us last year after a 2 year battle with lymphocytic lymphoma.

    The pink sweater with pearls, ruffles and ribbons still hangs in the living room, but the current herd thinks dressing up is beneath them.

    I respect that.

    I, on the other hand, have a headband with cat ears that I wear with my business suit to work.

  • 10/26/2011 02:19am

    Some pets love to dress up, while others loathe it. Always keeping them under observation while wearing clothing is the way to go.
    It sounds as though you have a clever costume that can go for day to evening for your office Halloween party.
    Have fun! Send a pic!
    Dr PM

  • no pumpkins for me
    10/25/2011 10:19am

    Four years ago I spent a ridiculous amount of time carving a big pumpkin. I traced a haunted house, moon and witch flying with a broom. I then carved it out, put a candle in it and set it out in front of our house.

    I marveled at the artistic and beautiful work I created.

    Next morning my wife takes Rock J Dog for a walk and Rock sees the pumpkin. With one chomp half of it was missing, the moon and witch and half of the house was gone!
    Rock is a fairly large dog so half a pumpkin is about right for his mouth size.
    That was the last time a carved a pumpkin.
    I do wish I could create a costume for Rock but they do not sell anything that fits him. The largest I have ever found is 42 inches for the chest and he is 54 inches. Neck size only goes up to 28 inches and he is 32 inches.
    I am no good at sewing and cannot afford to have a custom made costume. I have tried football jerseys but they dont fit right either.
    I would love to get a picture of him in a costume and if anyone has a suggestion for making a costume ( for a person who is all thumbs)please let me know your ideas.

    As for candies there are certain sweetners that they add now ( cant remember the name) but they are deadly for dogs. I just keep candies away from the pets.

  • 10/25/2011 12:55pm

    Rock's interest in the pumpkin is certain common among dogs (and some cats). Your real life example is the perfect reason to do your best to keep a pet away from Halloween decorations.
    Good point about the artificial sweeteners in some candies. You are likely thinking of Xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol commonly used in chewing gum, mints, etc. It can cause toxicity in dogs, even in small amounts.
    Here's a link to an article I wrote about Xylitol for Patrick's Blog on www.patrickmahaney.com

    http://www.patrickmahaney.com/animal-treatment/chihuahua-recovers-from-toxic-effects-of-sugarless-chewing-gum/

    Thank you,
    Dr PM

  • 10/25/2011 07:48pm

    rockjdog, surely you could find a simple cape for a super-hero!

  • 10/26/2011 02:21am

    A cape is a great idea, as long as it is well tolerated and doesn't inhibit the dog's movement.
    Cardiff, my dog, has a pet appropriate devil costume with a red plastic cape. I don't have him wear the cape for too long, as it doesn't permit heat or moisture to escape. On the plus side, it keeps moisture out (yet we live in Los Angeles, so it doesn't often rain).
    Super-hero dog sounds like a fun costume (as long as it is pet safe).
    Dr PM

  • Great article!
    10/25/2011 06:27pm

    My dog, who is normally just the sweetest and most affectionate thing you could hope to meet with people did NOT like a Halloween costume. I put it on her, and she began pacing. (This should have been my first clue, but I decided to see if she'd settle in). Within minutes she snapped at me if I approached her. Not being a TOTAL idiot, I removed her costume immediately and she returned to her normal self.

    Not all dogs enjoy costumes. My dog changed so radically wearing one that even though I should have removed it more quickly than I did, it was obvious within 5 minutes that it distressed her. A distressed dog is not what we ever want, and certainly not what we want when strange-looking children will be ringing the doorbell for the next 3 hours.

    I let my dog drag a long line during trick-or-treating, as another measure to keep her from escape. If she seemed upset at the frequent visitors, I'd just crate her, but she is actually happy to meet so many new children so we go with a long line.



  • 10/26/2011 02:24am

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience regarding your pet's intolerance of the costume. Glad to hear that you promptly removed it.
    Great suggestion as to having your dog wear a long lead during trick/treating. If the opportunity presented itself and the door was open, all you would have to do is grab or step on the lead to prevent the escape artist from making a run for it.
    Have a safe and happy Halloween.
    Dr PM

  • 10/27/2011 10:42am

    You're always distracted when meeting the children and handing out candy, and that gives your dog a chance to scoot past you out the door! My dog has never attempted to dart out the door during trick-or-treating, but I just feel safer with her dragging a line, just in case, yes. ;)

  • 10/27/2011 11:55am

    You are a smart owner acting responsibly to avoid potential stress, trauma, or other affecting your pet during the holiday season.
    Bravo!
    Dr PM

  • Accessorize!
    10/25/2011 08:05pm

    Does Rock have a harness? You can attach wings to it (fairy wings [meant for little girls] are easily located, but you may be able to find bat wings if Rock wants to be more macho. As OldBroad says he could wear a cape; you could put one of those fake leis around his neck, a Hawaiian print bandanna, and a straw hat if he'll stand it.

    I dress up Old Pup for photo shoots, but she doesn't like strangers, so she doesn't wear costumes off-camera. I have a little blue chiffon number that made her a very pretty Blue Fairy (Pinocchio)in her ingenue days. Now that she is a dowager, she goes as Lady Catherine deBourgh (Pride and Prejudice)

  • 10/25/2011 08:09pm

    Speaking of which - Costco has the most wonderful tu-tus for little girls. I'll bet they come in Rock-size.

  • thanks
    10/26/2011 09:46am

    Thank you old broad and ulagirl. Yes I have thought of a cape but it seemed so plain. I like the hula idea with a lei and straw hat. Rocks harness broke but Molly has one, it wont fit rock but perhaps I can add a rope to hold it. I will check out costco too. Rock is 11 now ( which is beyond the average life span for a bullmastiff)andI will love to get a picture of him in costume before he leaves the planet.

    thanks again

  • 10/27/2011 01:50am

    It would be SUCH a Halloween treat to see Rock dressed in any costume. Props to him for living such a long life. What is his secret?
    Dr PM

  • 10/27/2011 01:18pm

    I wish i knew what the secret was. I have had dogs that died much too early and I would have given everything I had just to keep them with me a while longer.

    I try to gve the best food and supplements and treats that I can afford, I take em the the vet regularly and keep a healthy safe environment. It seems not to hasten death and helps them live a more comfortable life but it does not seem to keep them here one mnute longer than they are suspossed to. I guess it all comes down to genes.

    My mom was a waitress all her life, smoked for 40 years, but butter on everything she eats and her last visit she announced she only eats red meat now. I felt I was shopping for a weight lifter! She is 88 and still going strong. My dads famly all die early esp the men. Im 52 and already falling apart.
    According just to my moms Socioeconomic status she should have passed at around 65 and thats only based on her income, add smoking, stress, cholesterol and she should have lived to the late 50's but here she is going strong. It has to be genes.

  • 10/28/2011 11:52pm

    You're right that a great deal of it comes down to genetics, but you are also doing all you can to help your pets live long lives. Regular and consistent lifetime healthcare, avoiding severe overwwight or underweight conditions, decent quality feed, and preventing opportunities for accidental death (as in letting a pet run loose and getting into fights, having accidental poisoning exposure or being hit by cars)give your pet its best chance at longevity regardless of genetic makeup.

    So don't sell your own efforts short here. ;)

  • 10/29/2011 01:55am

    Good perspective from both of you.
    Our health and longevity are so multi-factorial that we can only to our best to avoid the known factors (toxins, trauma, infections, etc) that negatively affect our health and promote the habits/etc that do.
    I just gave a cont ed lecture to my fellow vets titled "Incorporating Whole Food Nutrition, Nutraceuticals, and acupuncture into your veterinary practice". I still find it amazing that so many vets don't look more closely about promoting health with minimally processed diets and reducing patients' reliance on medications having side effects.
    I am glad that I opened some eyes with my perspective.
    Dr PM

  • 10/31/2011 05:23pm

    Ha Ha, thanks, my sister in-law says we run a full care senior citizen center, they get meals, a home,full medical plan and even spiritual help ( my wife is a buddhist and in their tradition they chant 8 hours over someone that has passed on to help them find their way).So when a pet passes they are covered with a death shroud that has lots of chinese symbols on it and she chants over them for 8 hours. Then she chants in the evening for them for 49 days. Don't know if it helps but thats what she does.

  • 11/02/2011 10:38pm

    That's a very interesting ritual, about which I would like to know more.
    Can you connect me to the person from whom I can learn about the Chinese symbolism, etc?
    patrick@patrickmahaney.com

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