Every year we find ourselves getting into the spirit of Halloween, be that through spooky costumes and decorations, pumpkin carving, or of course, some fun trick or treating with the younger members of our families. Have you ever stopped to think about where it all started and most importantly, how it affects our pets?
The origins of holiday
Once upon a time there was a fascinating group of people called the Celts, who lived in the area that today corresponds to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France. These folks celebrated their New Year on November 1st, and on the night before (October 31st), they would light bonfires and wear costumes to welcome in “the dark half of the year”, officially marking the end of the summer. They also believed that, on this particular day, the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, allowing more interaction between humans and ghosts. Time has passed and as a result of all this history, today we celebrate Halloween!
Our beloved autumn tradition is right around the corner and even though we belong to the group of people who really enjoy the festivities, we can’t help but worry about our pets and the impact this seasonal holiday can have on them. That’s because Halloween involves activities that can be harmful to our furry friends’ welfare if we don’t keep a watchful eye and put certain measures in place to help them.
How do I look after my pet this Halloween?
For all pet owners, a big concern is how they can enjoy the holiday safely with their pet – in amongst all the excitement is an abundance of sweets, as well as loud fireworks which can negatively impact our pets.
Starting with sweets – some of us may be guilty of having a sweet tooth but it’s vitally important that your pet doesn’t get their paws on your Halloween stash. Did you know that Halloween accounts for a quarter of confectionary sales over the period of a year in the US? As many of us know, chocolate is highly toxic for dogs, as well as xylitol
(artificial sweetener) and coffee – all of which are commonly found in Halloween treats. For our younger family members, it’s important to remind them not to share their goody bags with their four-legged friends and to make sure they dispose of all wrappers as they can be a potential choking hazard for our pets.
Another key aspect to consider is how your pet handles fireworks. Compared to humans, dogs and cats have far more superior and sensitive hearing. The first step is recognising if they are starting to show signs of fear such as excessive barking, cowering, hiding, trying to run away, panting, refusing to eat, clinging to owners, seeming depressed or withdrawn, soiling the house etc. Another sign could be yawning and licking lips for no apparent physical reason – sometimes this can be misinterpreted as the animal being relaxed and even sleepy however it’s important to analyse the context as this can also be a sign of anxiety and fear.
The panic our dogs experience when fireworks go off can be a result of them not being able to escape the noise and find shelter. This is where the ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in with our pets – scared pets will usually run away in an uncontrolled manner, sometimes over such a long distance that they are unable to find their way back. Worryingly, some animals may even experience heart attacks, get trapped in fencing, or injured if jumping from great heights / running into a busy road.
Preparing your pet for fireworks (before Halloween)
The best way to prevent panic is desensitise your pet to noise. You can start playing fireworks noises quietly days before Halloween, and gradually increasing the noise making sure they stay calm all the times. Don’t forget to reward good behaviour and always respect your pet’s limits.
Make sure your home and garden are free of any escape routes such as gaps in fences or open doors and windows.
Make sure your pet’s microchip details are accurate and up to date – this means that if they do unfortunately escape from home, they can be easily identified. For many countries, microchipping is a legal requirement and is such an important part of responsible pet ownership.
Build a shelter for your pet. It is very important (not only for Halloween) that your four-legged friend has a special place where they can hide and feel safe. Although building this den under or behind some furniture might work, we do recommend a portable spot such a pet transport cage as this will help relieve stress in a variety of situations such as travelling, moving house, or having new visitors to the home. It’s vital for your pet to have positive, memorable experiences in this safe spot – fill it with everything they enjoy including soft and cosy bedding, some of their favourite toys, as well as some treats.
If you know that your pet has an extreme fear of fireworks, you could also have a chat with your vet in advance as there are a variety of medications and treatments that can help them feel more secure and less anxious in these situations.
Steps to help your pet on Halloween night
Walk your four-legged friend during daylight, before any firework displays begin.
Keep the doors and windows closed.
Keep the curtains drawn and switch on the television or radio to mask the sound of fireworks, noise of doorbells and screaming children. Creating a special playlist can be a good idea to keep your pet calm.
Stay home with your furry friend and make sure that you comfort them as you would usually do, in case they seek reassurance from you. Keep your routine as normal as possible, trying not to add even more stress to the situation.
Let your pet free to hide or do what they want.
Don’t punish them if they do something ‘wrong’ – they are just scared and anxious and you are there to comfort them.
With more knocks on the door, people in costumes and visitors coming into your house, they may feel overwhelmed. An easy way to reduce anxiety and keep sweets out of your pet’s reach, is to leave treats outside the door for any trick-or-treaters as a ‘help yourself’ system.
Just like we do when we’re stressed, our pets may also experience tummy upsets due to high anxiety. From potential vomiting/diarrhoea to your pet excessively panting due to stress, dehydration could become a problem. We always recommend keeping your pet’s first aid kit fully stocked and in these situations a bottle of Oralade GI+ could go a long way in keeping your pet hydrated. As stress can have such a knock-on effect on the gut, Oralade GI offers microenteral nutrition to help support the gut – it’s also a really tasty treat for your pet, made from 100% natural chicken. To help keep your pet occupied, these can even be frozen in an ice cube tray or in the likes of a KONG toy – the perfect, tasty distraction.
What are other pet hazards?
While decorations are fun, it’s important to keep these out of your pet’s reach, especially smaller items that they could chew and potentially choke on. Also, as many cat owners will be aware, there generally isn’t anywhere that is considered ‘too high’ for a determined cat.
Costumes for our pet can also be great fun but as part of being a responsible pet owner, you must ensure these are 100% pet friendly. It is best to avoid elastic bands and anything that may obscure your pet’s vision. Even when the costume is safe, if they show any sign of distress and discomfort, remove the costume immediately.
All of this doesn’t mean that your pets must miss out on the fun! Did you know that pumpkins are very healthy for both dogs and cats? The perfect Halloween treat! Wishing you and your four-legged friends an enjoyable Halloween break!