Reducing Stress on Pets (and You!) During Halloween

By Jamie Merlo

Did you know that during the week of Halloween, emergency calls regarding accidental pet poisoning increase by twelve percent? According to the Pet Poison Helpline, this is the call center’s busiest time of year. 

Did you know that Halloween is only second to the Fourth of July as the most common holiday for pets to get lost? 

Not all pets love the craziness of Halloween. There are costumes, decorations, a constant parade of strangers coming to your door, and more. Take a step back and look at the holiday from your pet’s perspective. There are several things that you can do to create a safer, less stressful spooky season for you and your pet. 

Up-to-date information

The people all over town, the costumes and decorations, as well as your door constantly opening could cause your pets to bolt. Be sure your pets are all wearing tags with a phone number and that their microchip has up-to-date information. Be sure that you have a recent picture of your pet for flyers and social media in case they become lost.

Dressing your pet up in costume

According to Petsmart, seventy-five percent of pet parents plan to dress their pet up in a costume for Halloween.

Start practicing with your pet by putting on their costume well in advance! Just like when introducing anything that is new to your pet, use treats to introduce the costume to your pet gradually, always being sure to make it a positive experience for them. If there are different pieces, you may choose to introduce one piece at a time, starting with the easiest part. Take it off before your pet seems stressed, starting with just a few seconds, then a few minutes, and gradually increasing the duration that they wear it, all leading up to the big night. If dressing up in costume isn’t your pet’s thing, a festive bandana may be a good alternative. Only put your pet in a costume if you're sure that it is not causing stress. 

Be sure there are no dangers with the costume like chewable parts or objects that may fall off that your pet may eat. Be sure it can move freely and doesn’t seem uncomfortable. Be sure that it can see clearly and breathe normally. 

People dressed up in costumes

Keep in mind that masks and costumes change the way that people look and smell to your pet. This can make even well-known human friends look frightening.

There are some pets that don’t seem bothered by costumes at all, but unless you’re absolutely sure about it, you should leave your pet at home and not expose it to costumes. This is the most stress-free and safe option. You can desensitize your pet to your own costume in advance of the holiday, but because you can’t gradually expose them to all of the different costumes out there, it is safer to err on the side of caution and leave your pets at home.

If you’re planning on wearing your costume around your pet, introduce it gradually in advance of the holiday. Put it on the ground and allow your pet to sniff it, then move on to holding it up while your pet approaches, all while giving praise and rewards. Depending on the costume, you can take gradual steps such as putting on part of the costume only, plugging in an inflatable costume and leaving it unzipped on the ground so they can become familiar with the sound of the fan, etc. Take baby steps gradually towards wearing the complete costume, all while making it fun and rewarding with praise and high-value treats or other rewards.

Halloween decorations can be hazardous or scary to your pet. Be sure that there are no lit candles or flames available for your pet to get burned on or to knock over. Also be sure there are no ingestible parts or wires to chew on. 

Trick-or-treaters at your door

People continually at your door can be stressful for dogs and cats. You can minimize some of the stress by sitting outside to greet the trick-or-treaters instead of having them ring the doorbell.

You may choose to put your pets in a quiet room or a crate, away from the constant knocking, doorbell ringing, and strangers walking by the house.

You may also wish to have your dog in a crate to help it feel safe, while making sure it doesn't run out the open door. Adding enrichment toys is a good way to keep your dog distracted.

Halloween candy

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the four most common food hazards for your pet during Halloween are chocolate, candy overindulgence, raisins, and candy wrappers.

Keep candy stashed in a high cabinet, secured out of your pet’s reach. Make sure your kids don’t leave their candy laying around on the floor.

In conclusion

Halloween can be a fun and exciting time for people, but a scary and confusing time for cats and dogs. To ensure the holiday is safe for everyone, follow these tips and you'll have many more safe and stress-free holidays with your pet.

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