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5 Ways to Have a Dog-Friendly Halloween

Two veterinary behaviorists on how to ensure your pet has a safe and stress-free holiday.

by Claudia Kawczynska
October 19, 2021
White dog sits on a pile of leaves in front of a pumpkin
protivnica / Adobe Stock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Of all the holidays, Halloween might seem like one of the safest for pups. No fireworks! No tree to knock over! But it can be surprisingly dangerous for dogs. Dr. Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Leni Kaplan, clinician with the Cornell Hospital for Animals, share some tips on how to ensure your pets have a safe and stress-free Halloween.

1. Choose Comfortable Dog Costumes

If you are planning on dressing up your best bud, ensure that the costume fits well and isn't going to slip and tangle the pet or cause a choking hazard if chewed on. “Make the costume a signal that good things are about to happen, like a walk,” says Dr. Houpt.

“Another method is to pair a tiny, but delicious snack with the placement of the costume.” Dr. Kaplan agrees, adding, “Make sure costumes are the appropriate size and fit for your pet. A costume that is too tight will be constricting and uncomfortable, and a costume that is too loose may rub and cause skin irritation. In either case, your pet may have difficulty moving around and will not enjoy their experience.”

In addition to the comfort factor, Dr. Kaplan recommends steering clear of “costumes with accessories that are easy to grab or pull off — your pet might eat the accessory, predisposing them to a gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction, which will require veterinary medical attention and possible surgery.” Oh, and never leave a costumed pet unattended.

2. Sit Out Trick-or-Treating

There are a lot of extra people on the streets at Halloween, and that, combined with strange costumes, can spook pets and cause them to bolt. “It is not advised to take your dog trick-or-treating, due to crowds, children, unfamiliar people dressed in unfamiliar outerwear (costumes, masks, and carrying props),” says Dr. Kaplan.

“Dogs who are normally fine in crowds may be scared or spooked, and may act aggressively or out of character. If you do take your pet trick-or-treating, be sure to dress your pet in brightly colored and reflective clothing so they are easy to see at night, and keep them on leash at all times.” Dr. Houpt adds, “Only take your dog out if they have never had a problem with strangers and is restrained on an eight-foot leash, not a retractable or ‘flexi’ leash. Dogs are most likely to react to ghost costumes because the outline of the human is missing.” 

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3. Keep Candy Out of Reach

While Halloween candy is fun for humans, consider it a trick — not treat — for your dog. Dr Kaplan warns, “Candy and human snacks can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and in some circumstances pancreatitis, a serious illness which may require hospitalization.

Restrict access to foods toxic to dogs such as chocolate, coffee, caffeine, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, and any food containing xylitol or psychoactive cannabinoids such as marijuana.” However, “pumpkin is safe for pets to eat as long as it is not moldy. If your pet eats moldy pumpkin, contact a veterinarian immediately.” 

4. Don’t Let Your Pup Be a Party Animal

Even pets who are kept indoors may experience intense anxiety over the large number of strangely dressed visitors. Keeping your pet away from trick-or-treaters may do the trick, but if you think more will be needed be sure and speak with your vet well in advance about options to help calm your pet. 

“During parties or trick-or-treater visits, dogs can be confined in a room with a long-lasting treat or a food-dispensing toy,” says Dr. Houpt. “Play music or white noise so your pet is unaware of the people to keep them calm.”

5. Use LED to Light Jack-o-Lanterns

“Avoid using real candles as pets are often drawn to the flickering light and warmth,” says Dr. Kaplan. “They could burn themselves or start a fire if the Jack-o’-Lantern is tipped over. Instead of candles, use battery-powered LED candles or glow sticks. And make sure your pet cannot access and eat the LED candles or glow sticks!”

Claudia Kawczynska

Claudia Kawczynska was co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Bark for 20 years. She also edited the best-selling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot.