French bulldog in hot dog Halloween outfit

This pooch looks quite comfortable in his hot dog outfit. Remember that dressing up is not for everyone

When I was young, Halloween was one of my favorite celebrations. Not so much because of the candy (although it was definitely a bonus) but because of the chance to be someone (or something) completely different from my usual everyday self.  It’s a great time to play with costume make-up, wear funky clothing, and put on things that rattle and clink.

Try to imagine this from your dog or cat’s perspective though. All of a sudden their family members all look, sound, and smell different! So do all the visitors coming to the door!  You can imagine that Halloween, while fun for us humans, may be somewhat stressful for our pets.

Some things that can make your dog or cat stressed out on Halloween:

  1. Lots of kids.  Kids can be stress-provoking for many pets because they may not have had a lot of experience with kids.  Also, children move fast and often in unpredictable ways, which can make dogs and cats scared of being around them.
  2. Lots of costumes. Even if your pets are comfortable with children, they may be very concerned about the different ghouls and goblins coming to the door.  If your pets are not highly socialized and comfortable with people in costumes, this will make them afraid.
  3. Lots of people coming to the door.  If your dog is like many others, the doorbell is a signal for great excitement. Now imagine that excitement repeated 20 or 30 (or more!) times in one night!  Other pets see the doorbell as a signal for great anxiety.  It’s important to remember that this much excitement or anxiety can lead to stress, or to pets becoming afraid of visitors instead of looking forward to them.  Plus, each time the door opens it’s an opportunity for your pet to bolt out.
  4. Lots of changes to the neighborhood. I was driving through a neighborhood yesterday and saw a front yard that had been transformed into a cemetery, complete with headstones, cobwebs, ghosts hanging from trees, jack-o-lanterns, and skeletons climbing out of their graves. Great fun for us, but these odd objects can be significant stressors for your pets.

10 ways to make your pets more comfortable and safe during Halloween:

  1. Bring your pets indoors. Unfortunately, there are dogs and cats every year who are on the receiving end of Halloween “pranks”.
  2. Keep the Halloween candy away from your dogs and cats.  Chocolate, xylitol sweetner, and other compounds found in candy can be harmful or deadly to dogs, cats, or both.
  3. Keep them in a quiet room with the door shut so that they cannot bolt out of the house when Trick-or-Treaters come visiting. Consider playing some music, white noise, or a Through a Dog’s Ear CD to help muffle the sounds of the visitors.  This is especially important for pets who are not comfortable with children, not comfortable with visitors coming to the house, and/or not comfortable with surprises.
  4. Take your dog for his walk either well before trick-or-treaters start flooding the streets, or well after trick-or-treating is over. This way you can be ready for when the crowd comes to your door, and also keep your dog from being overwhelmed by the people in costume.
  5. If you take your dog or cat outside for any reason during this night, make sure that they are on leash attached to collar, harness or head halter that will not slip off.
  6. Don’t take your dog trick-or-treating with you or your family. While some dogs may enjoy it, most will be overwhelmed and scared by the people in costumes. You will already be thinking about whether your or your family’s costumes are alright, about the treats you might be getting, and focusing on costume-watching. Trying to keep track of your dog’s stress levels as well is a lot, so it’s safer and easier to leave your pooch at home.
  7. Avoid leaving your pets in the car out among trick-or-treaters. The sight of the scary costumes going by could lead to fear and protective behavior in the car.
  8. Dog costume events are quite popular, especially in Portland. If you are thinking of taking your pooch to a such a gathering, make sure that is the best thing for her. Will she be comfortable with a large group of other dogs?  How about while wearing an outfit that she’s likely not worn before? What about with other dogs who don’t look like dogs, because they are wearing strange outfits too?  Take your dog to an event like this only if she loves to be around other dogs, and she loves to be dressed up.
  9. If your dog comes across someone in costume and acts afraid, don’t force him to accept being petted by that person. That is like a zombie coming up to you and giving you a hug!  Respect your dog’s concerns and move him away from the person. If your dog starts barking at someone, avoid scolding him. That will increase his fear. Instead, calmly walk him away from the person and take him home.
  10. Prepare for next year. If you find that your dog or cat was very afraid in spite of taking these precautions,  then seek help from your veterinarian or a qualified behavior professional.

Now that you have these tips to keep your pets safe and happy, go and enjoy your Howl-o-Ween!