Richelle Smith, DVM
Safe Harbor Animal Hospital
4547 Cascade Rd. SE 49546
(616) 942-8147

Halloween Safety
Trick-or-treaters, Jack-o'-lanterns, haunted houses and costume parties. There's no doubt about it, for humans, Halloween is fun, fun, fun! But what do our four-legged friends think about all of this excitement? Well, the answer depends upon your pet. It's a good idea to be extra cautious this time of the year. If this is your pet's first Halloween, you'll have to gauge how well he or she deals with the changes in schedule, additional visitors to the home, costumes and overall increased hubbub.
For a shy or nervous pet, it is generally best to keep them in a separate room with a nice treat to chew on, a soft bed to sleep in, and a radio playing softly so they can avoid the noisy and often stressful situations that accompany most Halloween events. If your pet becomes extremely agitated at this time of year, talk to your veterinarian about a behavior consultation and the possibility of some short-term anti-anxiety medication so your friend doesn't have to feel panicked.
If your pet is generally happy, friendly and very well-behaved, you may be able to include him in some of the festivities. Use proper judgment putting your pet's and the human participant's safety above all else. If your pet seems uncomfortable with any situation it is best to remove her before there is a problem.
Keep the following precautions in mind when preparing for Halloween celebrations.
1. Make certain your pet is in a secure location during trick-or-treating and be sure all pets are wearing collars with ID tags:
Dogs and cats could become frightened by the unaccustomed sights and sounds of costumed visitors. In addition, frequently opened doors provide a perfect opportunity for escape, which can go unnoticed during all the commotion. Consider microchipping your pet in addition to keeping a collar with ID tags on him.
2. Cats - black ones in particular - often fall victim to unscrupulous individuals:
Keep cats safely indoors. Halloween pranks committed against pets can be vicious.
3. Place live flame decorations like candles and jack-o'-lanterns out of your pet's reach:
Curious critters can be singed or burned or knock over a candle or pumpkin causing a fire.
4. Keep candy in a secure location away from pets:
Mmmm, who doesn't love candy? Pets are often as attracted to the delicious sweets as we are. The problem is that certain types of candy, particularly chocolate and candy or gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be toxic to pets. Candy wrappers can also be harmful if swallowed.
The amount of chocolate or xylitol that needs to be ingested to cause illness or death varies as each pet appears to have individual sensitivities to these toxins.
Please, if your pet has ingested chocolate or sugar-free gum/candy, contact your veterinarian for advice. Treatment starting within one to two hours after ingestion is much easier, less expensive, and will result in a better outcome for your pet than waiting until she is physically ill.
There are much different levels of theobromine (the component in chocolate that can be poisonous to dogs and cats) in dark and baker's chocolate (very high levels) than in milk chocolate (lower levels). For example: The fatal dose of milk chocolate for a cocker-spaniel sized dog would be approximately one to one and one half pounds. The same dog would only need to ingest approximately two to three ounces of baker's chocolate to receive a fatal dose. The smaller your pet is, the less he would have to consume to have a deadly reaction. Signs of chocolate toxity may include vomiting, agitation/hyper-excitability, seizures, coma and death.
For xylitol, a 20 lb dog could have a severe reaction if she ingested one to two sticks of sugar-free gum with an average amount of this compound in it. Again, please contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet has eaten anything that may be toxic to her. Time is usually of the essence if you want to avoid signs of illness or death. Signs of xylitol toxicity may include lethargy, weakness, trembling, coma and death.
5. Be Careful with Costumes:
Introduce your pet to wearing a costume slowly using lots of positive reinforcement. Many pets enjoy the extra attention they receive when they are dressed up, however, many more pets are not amused. Don't force this on your pet if they are not enjoying themselves. Halloween should be fun for everyone. Make sure the costume fits well and doesn't interfere with your pet's ability to breathe, see, hear, move or vocalize. Use only under direct supervision as pets may chew off and swallow parts of a costume if left unattended.
6. Decorations can be Dangerous:
Keep items that pets could chomp on such as streamers, fake spider webs, wires and cords out of reach. Chewing these objects could cause choking, intestinal obstruction, illness or electrical shock.