The candy is stocked, the pumpkin’s lit, that gauzy spiderweb stuff is strewn about—you’re all set for Halloween, but what about your dog? With more than $350 million spent by Americans on pet costumes every year, having fun with our pets certainly ranks near the top of the Halloween list. But pet safety should be right up there too, as this annual occasion presents a number of new or unusual challenges for our dogs, including dangerous foods and scary situations. And animal shelters see an increase in lost dog reports and an uptick in stray pet intakes the day after Halloween. Follow these simple safety tips to keep your dog safe and help him enjoy Halloween.
Use Dog-Friendly Halloween Decorations
Dogs are naturally inquisitive, so changes to your home décor will pique his interest. If by now you’ve weathered a few holidays, maybe you’ve learned the hard way to keep decorations out of your best friend’s reach. But if you’re a new pet owner and this is the first holiday you’ll spend with your dog, you may need to tweak your holiday traditions in the interest of his safety.
Halloween decorations may contain plastic pieces, batteries, or other materials that are dangerous to dogs if swallowed. Fake cobwebs, glowsticks, string lights, tinsel, and balloons are also risky for pets. Natural decorations—gourds, pumpkins, and corn stalks—can cause stomach upset or an intestinal blockage if ingested by a curious canine, and carved pumpkins that have been sitting on the railing for a few days can harbor bacteria or mold that may make your pet ill. Lit candles, whether in a Jack o’ lantern or on the table, carry the risk of accidents or canine burns. Keep your dog in mind when putting up your eerie décor—skip dangerous materials, or keep them completely out of reach.
Can Dogs Go Trick-or-Treating?
If you live in a popular trick-or-treating area, you’ll likely see an influx of visitors to your front door on Halloween. Some of them may love dogs, but others may fear them. Costumes, masks, crowds of people, and new or loud noises can spook even the calmest of canines. If he is startled, he may slip out the door—and any dog, no matter how friendly, has the potential to bite if scared.
Even if you’re certain your dog will be friendly to every visitor, it’s a good idea to keep him in his crate through the most popular trick-or-treating hours. This gives him a quiet, safe space to relax, which can help prevent complications and ensure a fun night for all.
If you’re planning to participate in trick-or-treating around the neighborhood with your dog, plan ahead. Not everyone will want your dog on their property. Consider your trick-or-treating route and where it’s okay to take your dog. It’s a good rule of thumb to stay with him on the sidewalk while your kids knock on doors—unless you know the homeowners well.
If your dog joins you trick-or-treating, skip haunted houses or apartment complexes that require you to wander indoors, as these places can spell trouble. Keep an eye out for other dogs, who may be as confused as yours about what Halloween ‘fun’ means. Steer clear of other canines, costumed or not, to prevent scuffles. And since you’ll be encountering countless other kids as you make the rounds, make sure your dog is leash trained and socialized before attempting a night full of candy-fueled kids wearing strange (to the dog) costumes.
Tip: Opt for a canine-themed Halloween parade or party for your dog if he attends a camp or daycare that hosts one. It’s a safer alternative than trick-or-treating with him if he’s timid or easily spooked.
Should Dogs Wear Halloween Costumes?
While adorable, dog costumes are not subjected to federal regulations and aren’t tested for safety, which may put your furry friend at risk. Dog costume concerns include entanglement, strangulation, lack of mobility, and parts he can chew or ingest, which can cause a blockage. If you deck out your four-legged family member, leave room for a light-up or reflective collar (with proper ID) so he’s better seen. And never leave him unattended while he’s in his costume.
Watch for body language or signs he doesn’t like his costume—a tucked tail, whale-eyed looks, lip licking, or panting—and remove it immediately if he seems uncomfortable. If your pal seems happy to join the fun, choose a simple costume that allows him plenty of mobility, including the ability to eat, drink, and relieve himself with ease. If he’s not the costume type, opt for a bandana or bowtie instead.
Halloween Candy Is Dangerous for Dogs
You’ve probably heard that chocolate can be deadly if consumed by your dog—but chocolate isn’t the only culprit. Other sweeteners can have the same toxic effects on pets. While small amounts of chocolate or sweeteners may not be as concerning, moderate amounts of dark chocolate and sweets containing xylitol can be deadly for dogs. A nibble of a cookie with macadamia nuts or raisins can pose severe risks, and even dog-safe people foods like apples can cause stomach upset if he over-indulges. Watch out for candy packaging and wrappers, as these can cause a blockage if your dog ingests them. Be vigilant about keeping all sweets out of reach. Keep a small candy bucket full of dog treats handy so your furry best friend doesn’t feel left out on Halloween—you can distribute a treat to any neighbors who bring their dogs to your door.
With a little preparation, Halloween can be a fun and safe holiday for you and your dog. Do you trick-or-treat with your dog? Do trick-or-treaters visit your house just to say hello to your furry welcoming committee? We’d love to hear your Halloween stories in the comments. Have a happy Halloween—howl at the moon!
Yummy treats for humans, such as chocolate, mints, and brownies, can be dangerous and, in some cases, even deadly for dogs. Dogs need to be protected from getting their paws on people's sweets. Here’s a guide to keeping your dog safe from the chocolate stash year-round, but especially during the holidays when treats are everywhere.
Dogs, like humans, have a natural sweet tooth that can be dangerous when combined with their canine tenacity, their strong sense of smell, and sweets in paws’ reach.
- 14,600: The number of calls in 2015 to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center from worried owners whose pets ingested human food.
- 6-12 hours: The amount of time between consumption of chocolate and the onset of symptoms.
The Trouble With Chocolate
Theobromine & Caffeine: The Two Molecules in Chocolate That are Toxic to Dogs.
These compounds stimulate the cardiovascular and nervous systems in both canines and humans, but they break down slower in dogs and cause longer-lasting, more severe symptoms.
Did You Know?
- Most cases of chocolate poisoning occur around Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas when chocolate is more readily available.
- Treats with a higher percentage of cocoa have higher levels of theobromine and caffeine and are thus more toxic to dogs.
- Smaller dogs are at greater risk of chocolate poisoning than larger dogs because they can more easily ingest a toxic dose relative to their weight.
How Much Chocolate Would Cause Severe Toxicity in My Dog?
SMALL DOG – 20 LBS.
- Milk Chocolate: 6 oz.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips: 3 oz.
- Dark Chocolate: 2.5 oz.
- Baking Chocolate: 1 oz.
MEDIUM DOG – 50 LBS.
- Milk Chocolate: 15 oz.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips: 6.5 oz.
- Dark Chocolate: 7 oz.
- Baking Chocolate: 2.5 oz.
LARGE DOG – 90 LBS.
- Milk Chocolate: 26 oz.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips: 10.5 oz.
- Dark Chocolate: 11 oz.
- Baking Chocolate: 4 oz.
The Danger in Sweeteners:
Xylitol is a naturally-derived sweetener used in many sugar-free candies, gums, mints, and baked goods, which is a serious risk for dogs. This sugar substitute stimulates the rapid release of insulin in canines, which leads to a dangerous, sometimes fatal drop in blood sugar.
Xylitol is found in Sugar-free varieties of candy, gum, peanut butter, mints, chocolate bars, and baked goods. It is also used in cough syrup, chewable vitamins, mouthwash, and toothpaste.
Dogs often eat sweets with the wrapper on; this can delay the release of toxic compounds and cause digestive system blockages.
Dogs are at far greater risk of poisoning themselves with treats than cats, who have no taste receptors for sweets and tend to be picky eaters.
If you keep raisins in your house, make sure your dog can’t reach them. Raisins and grapes can cause severe digestive problems and acute renal failure in dogs.
Dog-Proof Your Sweets
- Always keep chocolate, candies, brownies, cookies, cakes, raisins, grapes, and any products containing Xylitol in high cabinets that your dog cannot reach.
- If your dog loves peanut butter, always double-check the ingredients list for Xylitol.
- Remind any children in the home that these items are dangerous for your dog.
- Be extra vigilant around the holidays.
- Crate your dog when you’re gone to keep him from eating things he shouldn’t.
What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate or Sweets
Symptoms That Require Immediate Medical Attention:
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
- Heavy panting
- Muscle tremors
If your dog is small or ingests an unknown quantity of chocolate, packaging, xylitol, raisins, or grapes—take him to the vet immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to appear.
If you know exactly how much your dog ate, contact your veterinarian. After calculating the amount of toxin ingested relative to your dog’s weight, the vet will likely recommend either a watch-and-wait approach or immediate emergency treatment.
Remember, when in doubt, always have your dog checked out by your veterinarian, or call the ASPCA Poison Control hotline, toll-free at (888) 426-4435 for immediate answers. Check out our The Orvis Guide to Dog Safety for more great tips.