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October 18, 2005 > Halloween: Trick or Treat?

Halloween: Trick or Treat?

by Nancy Lyon

This is your annual heads-up about protecting your animal family from harm at Halloween. Don't be one of those "it couldn't happen to my pet" people who forlornly straggle into the animal shelter after the holiday looking for their lost animal friend or bringing them in for quarantine because their unflappable dog suddenly lost it in the commotion and bit someone.

While it may be full of fun and festivity for humans, for our animal companions it is often a night that is full of confusing, terrifying and dangerous events. If you remember that Halloween is second only to July 4th in being hazardous to our companion animals and take necessary precautions to prevent accidents, you both may survive another onslaught of costumed merrymakers converging on your home.

Adhering to the following safeguards can minimize those dangers:

Be careful of a candle lit jack-o'-lantern. Curious animals can overturn them and be burnt, or may knock it over and cause a fire. Inquisitive kittens especially run the risk of getting burned.

Treats or Tricks?
Easy access to tasty treats collected by children can provide dogs with an irresistible opportunity to gulp down candy. Unfortunately, chocolate is extremely toxic to dogs and can prove fatal. Candy wrappers and foil, if swallowed, can cause serious digestive upset. The best course of action is to make sure all treats are inaccessible to your dog. Veterinary care can be very expensive - it's a lot easier to prevent your sweets gobbling canine from ingesting the indigestible, than to have both you and your dog pay a big price for carelessness.

Do not dress a dog or cat in costume unless you know they really love it. Otherwise, it can put too much stress on the animal. If you do dress up your "pet," make sure the costume isn't annoying or unsafe. It should not constrict his movement, hearing, or ability to breathe or bark. Also, there should not be small, dangling, or easily chewed-off pieces on the costume that they could choke on. Be careful not to obstruct their vision. Even the sweetest animal can get snappy when he or she can't see. Think prevention just as you would for a child in costume.

Goblins and witches at the door
It's important to remember that even the most socialized animal can be very upset by strangers banging on the door, wearing strange costumes and behaving in a loud manner. Such unfamiliar happenings may trigger a response that is totally different from their normal behavior and provoke fear-based actions that are totally out of character. By keeping this in mind, it is possible by taking a few precautions to avoid incidents that may put both trick-or-treaters and our animals in harms way.

The best solution is to confine your animal friend in a quiet room away from unsettling noise and confusion. If you are planning a holiday party in your home, monitoring the interaction of guests and "pets" is going to be difficult. Consider making overnight boarding arrangements with a qualified boarding kennel or with your veterinarian. A dog or cat escaping through the front door during treat collecting or from other related celebrations can dart into traffic and suffer injury or death. Some escape in terror and are never seen again.

The Dark Side
Don't leave your pet out in the yard on Halloween. There are plenty of stories of cruel pranksters who have teased, injured, stolen, and even killed pets on this night. There are bad people out there who think unprotected animals are fair game.

It's not a sinister fantasy that on All Hallows Eve black animals are especially at risk from individuals who practice ritual animal sacrifice. Be very aware of this and protect your animals from theft for a week before Halloween as well as on Halloween night. It's always a dangerous practice to allow your cat or dog to roam freely and it is especially so during this period. The danger to black (and solid white) pets is not just a scary story, this is more of a problem than you might imagine. Many animal shelters and rescues will not adopt out animals of this coloration until after the holiday for fear of criminal abuse.

If the Worst Happens
Even while following all safety precautions, the worst may still happen. Make sure your dog or cat is wearing proper identification. If for any reason they escape and become lost, you increase the probability that they will be returned to you. Contact your local animal shelter as soon as possible and ask for advice in finding your lost family member. Ohlone Humane Society can also help. Don't wait hoping they will "show up," it could cost them their lives.

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