Halloween can be a fun time of year. Candy, costumes, ghoulish decorations and a constantly ringing doorbell add to the excitement. These same things, however, can make Halloween a stressful or even dangerous time for our furry companions. It’s important that you are aware of the dangers associated with the holiday, and take the steps necessary to protect your dog.
Candy is a huge part of the Halloween experience, and is one of the biggest dangers for your pet. One issue is the choking danger candy can present. Many hard candies are the perfect size to get lodged in your dog’s throat, while wrappers and plastic candy containers can cause choking, as well as stomach upset or intestinal blockages. The candy can also cause stomach upset and its accompanying diarrhea or vomiting, but toxicity is a bigger worry. Most people know that chocolate is unhealthy for dogs, but might not realize the problems associated with artificial sweeteners, especially Xylitol. This sweetener is used in many sugar free gums and candies. Eating a single piece of candy or one or two pieces of gum can cause a severe blood sugar drop in your dog, leading to hypoglycemia. Ingesting greater amounts can cause liver failure. Make sure your children don’t share their candy stash with their furry buddies deliberately or accidentally, by leaving their candy down where the dog can get to it. Should your pooch get ahold of too much candy or anything with Xylitol, try to induce vomiting and get him to the Vet.
Costumes are the classic Halloween item, and many people like to dress up their pets. Some dogs seem to thrive on the attention they get when donning a costume, but others don’t enjoy it. Start slowly with your dog, monitoring his reactions. If he’s nervous or stressed, ditch the get-up and go with a holiday collar or bandana. If your dog doesn’t mind, make sure the outfit fits properly, doesn’t impair his vision, hearing or ability to breathe, and is not so loose that it can trip or entangle him. Also perform a safety check to ensure there are no hanging or loose pieces that can fall or be bitten off and swallowed, and don’t leave him unsupervised while he’s wearing it. More than one dog has chewed his way from “Dogtor Doggy, MD” back to plain old mutt! It’s also important to remember that costumes can mask communication signals between dogs. Dogs speak to one another in many subtle ways involving body posture and position, and costumes can impact their ability to send and receive these signals. If you take your dog out around other canines while dressed up, make sure you give them all plenty of space.
Crazily dressed humans are a fun part of the day, but can be a worrisome element for your fur buddy. Threatening characters, weird masks and other oddball looks can bring out protective or aggressive instincts in your dog, or can frighten him. This can contribute to a usually trustworthy dog biting or otherwise reacting. If your dog is upset by costumed people, put him somewhere safe and quiet.
Decorations can be another doggy danger. Candles, easily knocked over by excited jumping or eagerly wagging tails, can be fire and burn hazards. Light strands and electrical cords can be tempting for your four footed friend, and can prove painful or even deadly should he munch on one. Jack-O-Lanterns and pumpkins intended for decoration can also prove to be tempting for your dog to chew. While pumpkin is a great doggy treat, eating an entire one can lead to unhappy tummies and messes for you to clean up.
Another Halloween danger is the doorbell. Trick or Treaters constantly tolling the bell, can cause your dog to become overly stressed or excited. At this point, the open door can be viewed as an avenue of escape even for typically trustworthy dogs. If your pet shows signs of nervousness, move him to a quiet area of the house away from the hubbub, or crate him in a back room. Whether your dog is keyed up or not, with all the door openings, be sure he’s wearing his collar and ID tags, just in case.
Our desire to share our lives with our dogs, and their joy in participating in our activities with us, is a defining characteristic of the human/canine bond. Include your dog in your Halloween fun, but remember, it’s a people day, not a dog day. Take the steps necessary to ensure it is an enjoyable and safe holiday for all.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.