Halloween is the perfect time of year to celebrate ghosts, goblins, ghouls and all manner of things that terrify and fascinate our imaginations. It’s often accompanied by a sugar high from readily available access to all sorts of sweets and treats, adding to our already edgy nerves and causing us to jump and yelp at leaves rustling or a wavering shadow. We may celebrate by dressing in strange attire, sometimes changing our appearances completely with masks or costumes, which are often visually off-putting or meant to startle and attract attention. We may also hand out candy to expectant trick-or-treaters more than ready to knock or ring the doorbell, while loudly vocalizing, “trick-or-treat”. This cycle going on for hours. There may also be the occurrence of a Halloween party, in which many masked and/or costumed guests will arrive at the house, accompanied by hearty talking, laughing and the playing of music (hopefully, Monster Mash and Transylvania twist). With all these stimuli and happenings, Halloween is not a normal day and for that we are thankful, but our felines and canines may not be as appreciative for all of these, “good times”. So let’s explore how we can keep our dog and cat safe on Halloween.
Environmental Arrangement [cat edition]
If you are planning on hosting a party or just catering trick-or-treaters, it is smart to decide on a safe and secure location in the home where our cats could have access to. Keep them free from the sight of excessive Halloween costumes, loud noises of voices and music, all of which can frighten or alarm cats, along with being near the commotion of a noisy and busy front door as candy is dispersed. This can lead to a startled cat possibly getting out of the house.
Provide a safe space for your cat
This safe space for the cat(s) could be a bedroom, guest room, or any sort of space that is secure and will be quiet, not having guests or loud noises occupying it. The more space the better, along with fresh water, a litterbox (as in 1-2 depending how many cats will be sharing the area), a scratching post of some sort and access to beds or areas of comfort along with food (depending on feeding routine). We can begin acclimating the cat(s) to this safe space a few days before Halloween, with the offering of some sort of high value food in the room that will be used to increase the probability of the cat(s) eating in that safe space. Adding playtime, brushing or other positively associated activities is encouraged in this space. Often the best rooms or spaces to use are the ones that the cat(s) already have the most positive associations with. Pick places where your cat(s) are sleeping in often or spend time in already of their own voluntary accord. If such a room is not available, then like with the food, we could begin to encourage the cat(s) to explore the space and increase that likelihood with play, food, or enrichment items in that room, along with a litterbox, which should all be in place a few days before Halloween or when we would need that safe space.
Another consideration to help diminish the excess noise of loud voices, laughter and music enlivening a party would be to play either classical or “cat music,” in the secure space for the cat(s)(yes, it’s out there and a quick search is all it takes). There is research that indicates such frequencies and beats per minute will aid in moderating cortisol (aka stress levels). Even though everyone’s entitled to one good scare at Halloween, please keep in mind that our pets have limited choice or control in our celebrations. They don’t ever need any kind of scare, as unintentional as it would be among all of these celebrations.
Keep your cat at home
It’s a good idea to keep cats indoors during Halloween night celebrations for many reasons. There are more people out on Halloween than most nights. Increased stimulation of costumed trick-or-treaters can startle cats, leading them to flee into dangerous situations, like busy roads or yards to encounter equally unsettled dogs or cats and though a sad reality. Other people often pose the most danger to our animals, whether intentional or unintentional. So when there are more people out and about on Halloween night, keeping cats in the safety and security of the homestead is best.
Dangerous food for your cat
For cats (and dogs as well), from chocolate to xylitol and every lollypop stick and wrapper in between, when digging into a bucket of candy, we’re digging into ingredients that can kill your pet. They can cause acute liver failure and wrappers like cellophane wrappers which can lead to gastrointestinal blockages. This may even require expensive emergency surgery and lengthy recovery processes. Modifying the environment is a way to keep cats away from the candy bowl and a strategy to remember not to leave wrappers lying around in random places. Putting them in the trash is a great proactive approach!
Keep your cat away from any source of fire
Many of us enjoy carving pumpkins and displaying jack-o-lanterns, but let’s keep in mind how flammable the world around us is, including our felines. We’ve all had an experience with that cat jumping on the table and singeing her long tail on a candle only to amble off with an assured aloofness as if nothing happened. But life does not occur with such sitcom perfection and battery-operated candles bring peace of mind, allowing a heightened degree of ease and safety.
Halloween costumes are for humans, not for cats
The last item to be touched upon is that of dressing cats up in costumes for, or beyond, Halloween, with which issue is taken for several reasons. The first is, I have never witnessed a process by which a guardian dresses a cat into a costume that allowed for any choice, if only offering very little control and no freedom for the cat. In 90% of these instances, the cat was struggling and trying to get away, which is not consent in any court of law that I’d sit in the jury for (the other 8% being learned helplessness and maybe 1-2% actual R+ conditioning). Such lack of choice and control in this aspect of forcing cats into costumes can have negative effects, leading to issues of the cat actively avoiding owners and other behavioral displays of heightened distress. Including but not limited to: increased biting of the owner, urination or defecation outside of the litterbox, hiding or ‘caving’ in certain areas as well as increased stress leading to health complications from urinary tract infections to over excessive autogrooming and gastrointestinal distress.
The second reason is that in 99.9% of the cases of forcing a cat into such an outfit there seemed to be no other purpose than for that of a photo opportunity or to show the cat off in some way that was contrary to the cat’s own volition, objectifying a living being. If we humans want to dress up and objectify something, let it be themselves. It is our choice and control that allows for that freedom (and hopefully some great photo opts). Let’s make sure we’re attempting to remember to adhere to that level of choice and control with all our learners, in all situations, at all times.
Environmental Arrangements [dog edition]
Safe space for dogs and ability to move away
If you are planning on hosting a party or just catering trick-or-treaters, just like with cats – provide a safe space for your dog so he can at any point retreat to it. The safe space that you provide should be quiet, dark, cozy, with some of his toys, water bowl. It would be also great idea to give him a chew toy, sniffing mat or stuffed kong of some sort there. We want our dog to feel safe there and have a place for uninterrupted sleep if he needs to. That might include putting blinders on and playing some classical music in the background to cover the noises from the rest of the house. If you know that your dog is worried about strangers, keep everyone safe by asking them not to approach him at any point. If your dog decides to come to the visitors on his own account – that’s a different story. Still, be careful to look at his body language and ask people to stop petting him from time to time and see if he keeps on asking for it or decides to leave. Make it a rule for everyone that if your dog leaves the interaction, no one will be following him. Important point is that even if your dog is normally friendly with people, he can feel frightened by seeing them in costumes. Be his voice and ask your guests to leave him some space and don’t interact with him unless he started the interaction.
Halloween walks with your dog
On your walks, your dog can get scared and want to run away. Ensure his safety by keeping him on a well-fitted harness with an ID tag with your number on it. If your dog is fearful and/or reactive, consider a double point of safety by attaching the leash to the harness and collar at the same time. Ask people not to come near your dog or pet him. Be his voice and inform others that he needs space. Any sign of moving away and getting scared is a red flag. Always allow your pup to retreat and hide. If he gets scared he can try to run away and hide but also he can start barking at the person and not want to lose sight of them. Both situations can be difficult and embarrassing. Take him out of this situation as soon as possible and try to arrange either a shorter walk or drive somewhere where there are no people in costumes. Another thing your dog can get scared of is house decorations seen on your walks. It’s ok for him to get scared, just allow him to retreat and move around the objects further away.
Dangerous candies for dogs
Remember that for dogs, any chocolate or xylitol, lollypop stick and wrapper, are ingredients that can be life-threatening! Digesting them may even require expensive emergency surgery and lengthy recovery processes! Be extra careful when taking the candies out and rigorously watch what your dog is doing at any time. It’s better to be safe than sorry. To prevent any accidents (especially when guests arrived at your house), have some of your dogs’ treats ready so you can offer your pooch something appropriate to eat instead. It would be a great idea to have a stuffed chew toy like a kong or a long-lasting chew so your dog can nibble on it and stay away from the candies.
Your dog also isn’t fireproof
Displaying jack-o-lanterns is a long known tradition, but let’s keep in mind how flammable the world around us is, including our beloved canines! Especially those wagging tails pose a real danger next to the flames! To not enter a horror movie in an uninvited way, stick to the battery-operated candles!
Halloween dog’s costiums
As much as I’ve seen brilliant training and teaching dogs to enter harnesses or cones (buster collars) voluntarily I would also be extra careful with dressing our dogs up for Halloween. I understand that there are breeds (our lovely sighthounds and hairless dog breeds) who need jackets for a cold November weather but offering them a choice and control over it is a way to go. Before you put your dog in a funny outfit – ask yourself a question – why are you doing this? Is it solely for the picture or will that be of benefit for your dog too (training wearing a jacket for cold weather)? Be honest with yourself and take your dog’s needs and wants into account. They are living, breathing creatures too. Treat them like ones.
We’re hoping that now you’ll know how to keep your dog and cat safe on Halloween. Remember that Halloween can be a very difficult time for your animal companion so don’t forget about his comfort and wellbeing while you’re having a party.
Have a most fun, spooky and safe Halloween everyone!
Tags: dog and cat safe on Halloween, Halloween