[Updated: 20 October 2020]
Halloween (or Howl'oween, as we like to call it in the office) is just around the corner, and with it comes lots of food, trick-or-treatings, and its own share of potential hazards for cats and dogs. This special day should be a fun occasion to be enjoyed with family, friends, and our furry friends; not wasted on rushing your pet to the nearest animal ER and worrying over them. Proper planning, preparation, and being vigilant about what your pet eats or plays with, or where they stay during the festivities can therefore be very useful in safeguarding your pet against potential Halloween hazards. As our Halloween treat to you (no tricks here, we assure you), we have prepared for you a list of dangers and hazards to avoid on this spook-tacular day.
Candies and treats overflow during Halloween as people head out to Halloween parties and, for the younger ones (or the young at heart), go on trick-or-treat adventures around the neighborhood. Many of these are made of chocolate, the most common reason for animal ER visits during this time of year. Chocolate is toxic to pets because their bodies are unable to efficiently metabolize theobromine, a caffeine-like compound in chocolate. Take note that the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. The large quantities of sugar and fat found in candies and sweets can also increase your pet’s risk for pancreatitis, a potentially fatal problem that involves the inflammation of the pancreas.
Another key concern is xylitol in candies. It is a sugar alternative that is more toxic to dogs than chocolate. Unfortunately, many people remain unaware of the very real and serious threat that xylitol poses to dogs, so if you are reading this: please spread the word to your fellow pet-owning Halloween party goers!
Raisins, grapes, and currants
Did you know that grapes, raisins, and currants can cause acute kidney failure in pets? During Halloween, your pet will likely have easy access to these foods from chocolate candies, baked goods, and salads. Raisins are even given out in mini-boxes as healthy treats for trick-or-treaters. Steer your fur-kids away from these!
Snack and candy bags
When pets consume candies or other goodies, the wrappers may occasionally be ingested as well, and this can lead to irritation, inflammation, and even obstruction of the digestive system. Pets can suffer from vomiting and/or diarrhea, and may need surgery to remove the obstruction.
Another potential but very real danger is when your pet's head gets stuck inside a plastic bag as they rummage for crumbs. With their head inside the bag, a vacuum-like seal can be created and your pet can suffocate in as little as 3-5 minutes!
Glow sticks and glow jewelry
The curiosity of cats and dogs can get the better of them when they see glow sticks and glow jewelry lying around. What makes them glow is dibutyl phthalate which is not usually toxic in low doses, but can still irritate the mouth and cause pain, as well as foaming and excessive drooling. It can also irritate any part of the body that comes into contact with the chemical, such as the skin and eyes. Any chemical traces in the skin and hair coat of cats can potentially be ingested during grooming which may cause them to gag and retch uncontrollably. So be sure to keep these out of reach from your pets, and be doubly sure to clean up immediately any leakages from these glowsticks!
Fake spider webs, rubber spiders, and other small Halloween decors can cause digestive upsets or obstruction of any part of the animal’s gastrointestinal tract (GIT) when ingested. Any obstruction of the GIT may require emergency surgery to remove which can be costly, troublesome, and worst of all, expose your pet to unnecessary risks that come with surgeries.
Pumpkins and other Halloween plants
Pumpkins and corn that are used as Halloween decors should be disposed of immediately after the festivities. They spoil easily and your pet may decide to take a bite out of them. Ingesting uncooked corn or pumpkin may not be harmful in small amounts, but they can be a problem when they are moldy. Consumption of mold can lead to digestive upsets and neurological problems as mold produces mycotoxins.
Electric and power cords
Many homeowners spruce up their homes for Halloween with lots of flashing lights, sounds, and other electronic devices. Thus, electrical cords should be covered or tucked in places that are inaccessible to cats and dogs. Your pet’s tongue or other mouth structures can get burned or badly shocked when they chew on electric cords, exposed or otherwise. This would then necessitate the sending of your pet to the vet clinic for several days, which in turn could mean substantial payments for veterinary bills. Also, let's not forget that a chewed cord can easily start a fire!
Pets can easily brush against a lighted candle, leading to severe, painful burns which can become easily infected. It could even start a house fire! A word of advice: ditch those real candles and go for the LED ones instead. You can thank us later.
When choosing Halloween costumes for your pets, make sure that they do not impair their ability to move, see, or breathe. Avoid costumes with metallic beads or other small pieces because they can cause serious problems when ingested, more so if they contain zinc and lead as they are toxic.
If your pet is donning a costume, be sure to keep a close eye on him so that if there is something wrong, you can address it immediately. Also, you should have your pet try on his costume several days before the big day so he will be comfortable wearing it. Pets that are not used to wearing anything will need time to get accustomed to wearing a Halloween costume. Be sure to make the experience positive to your pets by offering lots of praise and their favourite treats in bite-sizes while they are wearing the costume. If you are thinking of coloring your pet’s hair coat, it is recommended that you consult with your veterinarian as there are hair dye products that contain chemicals that can be toxic to pets, even if it is non-toxic to humans.
Pets escaping and getting lost
With all the fanfare and flurry of activity during Halloween, pets can escape, become disoriented, and get lost when you are not careful. It can also be a stressful time for pets as there are so many unfamiliar and strange people, sights, scents and sounds. To prevent any unfortunate event from happening, pets should be kept in a room away from the front door especially during hours when trick-or-treating is at its peak. Also, make sure that your pets are wearing their ID tags or a microchip at all times so that if ever they do escape, you have a much higher chance of being re-united with your pet.
We hope that this has been a useful guide in helping you prepare for your big Halloween extravaganza. Here's to a safe, pet accident-free Halloween, and may the odds be sweet and ever in your favour on your trick-or-treat runs!