By Carol McCarthy
Parents don’t need to be reminded about Halloween safety when it comes to their kids; They guide them with flashlights while trick-or-treating and inspect each piece of candy their child collects. But even the most vigilant adult might not be aware that their own Halloween costume can pose pet safety risks for their furry friends.
Your pets might already be ill at ease by seeing family members acting in unpredictable ways as they don Halloween costumes and get into character, perhaps stomping around like Frankenstein, explains Dr. Neil Marrinan of Old Lyme Veterinary Hospital in Connecticut. “Halloween is like a scary movie, but played out in real time in real life,” he says.
But in some cases, it is the costume components and materials themselves that can put pet safety at risk.
Halloween face paint, makeup and cosmetic products typically are not toxic to pets, assured Dr. Charlotte Flint, senior consulting veterinarian in clinical toxicology for the Pet Poison Helpline & Safety Call International. “Most of these products have been formulated to be nontoxic, especially considering they are designed for and most commonly used by children,” she says.
But they can still make your pet feel lousy if they’re eaten in large amounts. “Ingesting the contents of a tube or package of Halloween cosmetics, the oils and other ingredients in them can result in vomiting and/or diarrhea,” says Dr. Flint.
Store-bought fake blood products used in Halloween costumes are unlikely to pose a pet safety issue, because they are nontoxic, Dr. Flint says, but she cautions pet parents to always check package ingredients. The best precaution is to keep potentially tempting products away from curious noses and mouths.
Homemade fake blood can be quite appealing to pets because it often includes ingredients like powdered sugar, corn syrup, corn starch and food coloring. And some recipes contain a small amount of chocolate (usually cocoa powder or chocolate syrup), she notes.
“A lick or small taste would still be okay, but if a small dog ate an entire batch of homemade fake blood with cocoa powder in it, that might cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, excitability and maybe elevated heart rate, depending on how much was ingested in comparison to the size of the dog,” she warns.
Dr. Flint also says that pets can be drawn to eating or chewing odd things, so plastic caps and packaging material could be a concern. Materials like these are not digestible and can become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract.
Masks that distort a person’s features can make it impossible for a pet to interpret signals of human emotion and intention, which can confuse and frighten pets, explains Victoria Schade, a certified dog trainer and author based in Pennsylvania.
“Couple that with the fact that some masks exaggerate human features into extreme expressions of anger, fear or sadness, and it's understandable that dogs might react poorly to them,” she says. “Pets can be confused by the atypical look and movement of people in costumes, which could lead to surprising reactivity (from them).”
Schade says fangs, claws, fake eyeballs and other plastic Halloween costume pieces could be a problem if a curious cat or playful pup decides to sink their teeth into them. These components can put pet safety at risk by causing choking or digestive issues that sometimes require surgery to resolve.
If a pet were to ingest a wig or long strands of fake hair, there is a risk of the hair causing an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract, Dr. Flint says. “Long strands of hair would have the potential to cause what is called a linear foreign body in the GI tract. This is a particularly dangerous situation where if the end of the hair or string becomes lodged, it causes bunching of the intestines around it, and can then start to cut through the intestinal wall, leading to serious infection,” she explains. “Surgery would be needed if a pet developed an obstruction from eating a wig or hair.”
“Glow sticks are attractive to some dogs and can be mildly toxic,” Dr. Marrinan notes. Dr. Flint agrees that they are unlikely to be truly poisonous but could cause gastrointestinal obstruction if the plastic parts are ingested. The fluorescent material inside a glow stick is also very bitter, so it’s not unusual to see pets drooling, pawing at their mouths, or even vomiting after they’ve had a taste.
Whether it is face paint, fake blood, wigs or glow sticks, remember to keep Halloween safety in mind when donning a costume or discarding and storing items at the end of the night. Keep material that could harm your pet out of their reach and be sure to toss items in securely closed trash receptacles or storage containers.