Halloween used to be a holiday celebrated mostly by kids. A couple of decades ago adults started dressing up as well, and over the past few years, pets have increasingly been participating in the festivities. In fact, about 20 million Americans are expected to spend $350 million this year on Halloween costumes for their pets.
Frightening, isn’t it? Not quite as scary is the fact that pet costume contests and parades across the country actually raise lots of money for animal shelters and worthy causes. Two of the biggest are the Tompkins Square Halloween Parade in New York City and the Haute Dog Howl’oween Parade in Long Beach, Calif.
However, as KC Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), warns, “The things that make Halloween a treat for people — noises, smells, trick-or-treaters at the door and people in costumes — can overwhelm many pets.”
This is why animal shelters and veterinarians are usually very busy this time of year, dealing with pets who have run away or gotten sick from eating Halloween candy or decorations.
Pet Costume Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t force your pet to wear a costume. “Please don’t put your dog or cat in a costume UNLESS you know he or she loves it (yup, a few pets are real hams!),” recommends the ASPCA.
- Do not put a mask on your dog or cat, or anything that covers your pet’s eyes or ears.
- Do carefully examine the costume and remove any small, dangling pieces your pet could chew and choke on. “Also, ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury,” adds the ASPCA.
- Do try a couple of dress rehearsals and observe your pet in the costume. If your dog or cat seems distressed (look for signs like a tucked-in tail, folded-down ears and eyes looking sideways), forget about a costume. Instead…
- Do simply have your pet wear a fancy collar or bandana instead of a full costume. “Collar-wearing dogs and cats are already used to the feel of something around their necks, so they aren’t likely to be very bothered by a scarf or other neck accessory,” says Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian and animal advocate.
- Do consider having your dog or cat’s costume be “nudist” if wearing anything bothers your pet.
Make Halloween Night Less Spooky for Your Pet
- Unless your dog or cat is super social, put your pet in another room before trick-or-treaters start ringing the doorbell. “While you’re enjoying the fun, make sure your pets have a safe haven in a room where they can feel safe, comfortable and relaxed—and that they are tucked away from any hazards,” Theisen advises.
- Do the same if you’re hosting a Halloween party. “Masks and costumes change how people look and smell to a pet, so even familiar people may become frightening,” says the HSUS.
- If your super social dog or cat stays with you as you hand out treats, make sure your pet doesn’t bolt outside when you open the door.
- No matter how social your pet is, keep your dog and cat indoors at home, especially while you’re out trick-or-treating. “Dogs can be easily excited by the Halloween commotion, and a bite or a lost dog will quickly end the evening’s fun,” notes the HSUS.
- Make sure your pet is microchipped and wearing a collar with ID on Halloween night, “in case s/he escapes through the open door while you’re distracted with trick-or-treaters,” the AVMA advises.
- It’s important to keep trick-or-treating bounty, especially chocolate and sugarless gum, in a high cabinet away from your pets. “Chocolate in all forms—especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for dogs and cats,” warns the ASPCA. “Candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems.”
- If your pet does devour the contents of a trick-or-treat bag, immediately call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).
- Although they’re generally safe, don’t let your pet nibble on real pumpkins, because they may cause stomach upset. And if you put a real candle inside that real pumpkin, keep it far away from your pet.
- If you’re hanging Halloween lights, make sure the cords are out of your pet’s reach to prevent electrical shock if they’re chewed.
- The ASPCA warns that the following Halloween decorations can be dangerous for pets: glow sticks and fake blood, because they can be poisonous; fake cobwebs, which can choke or entangle pets and wildlife; and potpourri and scented candles, which are both toxic to birds.