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Fear free Halloween for pets

Halloween is an exciting time of year, for both children and adults alike. It’s a chance to flex our creative muscles when it comes to our costumes, and a chance to indulge our sweet tooth without feeling (as) guilty. For our beloved furry friends, however, it isn’t as cut and dry. Halloween costumes are a no-go for most animals—let’s be honest, only our sweetly loyal dogs seem at least willing to consider them—and Halloween candy will make them sick at best and is potentially fatal at worst. And then there’s the fear factor of it all.

“Scaredy cat” is a common colloquialism for a reason. We’ve all seen cats jump miles into the air out of fright, but let’s not forget that a dog’s bark is just as likely to stem from fear as it is from aggression or a desire to intimidate. Everything about Halloween has the potential to create a very fearful situation for our pets.

Doorbells a ringin’

If you’re planning on handing out candy from your house this year, then you need to consider the impact the constant doorbell ringing will have on your animal(s). Does your dog bark every time the doorbell rings? Does your cat run and hide under the chair? On a normal day, this might not happen very often, but Halloween is the one night per year guaranteed to make you feel like you’re stuck in a loop.

One option is to place a sign over your doorbell that asks trick-or-treaters to NOT ring your doorbell, and to knock instead. But, if the sound of shrieking ghouls and ghosts knocking on your door will produce the same effect in your four-legged friends, then you might want to consider handing out candy from the sidewalk or the end of your driveway to circumvent the problem completely. Even if you choose this road to travel, your pet may still be unsettled by the increased foot traffic, and accompanying noise, so take the time beforehand to create a safe haven for him/her in one room of your house, preferably as far away from the front door as possible. Use a sound machine or the TV or radio on low to create non-threatening background noise, and surprise them with a new toy or treat. If you know your dog is particularly anxious in situations like these (perhaps you’ve learned the hard way on previous Halloweens!), keeping your canine family member in a crate for the evening might make more sense.

Pets on the run

If you’re planning on taking your dog trick-or-treating, make sure that you keep them on a tight leash, and on familiar territory. Be vigilant about gauging your animal’s mood, and if they seem to be exhibiting signs of aggression, cut the night short and return home. But if you already know that your dog is afraid of crowds and/or protective of you, keep them indoors for the entirety of the evening. Make sure you take them for their walk earlier in the day, before it gets dark and children have started trick-or-treating. This has the added benefit of making them tired, which may help keep them calm for the duration of the evening.

It’s important to note, that if you have a cat, especially a black one, it would behoove you to keep them indoors for not just Halloween, but the days (and nights) leading up to Oct. 31. It’s sad to say, but black cats are targeted this time of year, and no one wants to see your feline become the victim of a horrible prank.

Spirit of the season

It’s always fun to see the creative house decorations that people come up with for Halloween. From intricately carved pumpkins and fog machines to ghosts swinging from the trees and “Monster Mash” playing on repeat, Halloween is an excuse for even the most jaded amongst us to have a little fun. But when you throw pets into the mix, you need to keep a careful eye out.

Open flames from lit candles, whether they’re nestled inside that intricately carved pumpkin or not, are highly dangerous, so it’s best to use battery-operated candles or avoid them completely. The additional electrical cords needed for that fog machine or the speakers pumping out “Thriller” are a hazard in more ways than one: pets who like to chew can electrocute themselves, which may be fatal (especially in smaller animals), or they may get caught up in the wires, causing them to injure themselves. You can prevent this by keeping cords out of walkways, and hiding them under carpet or utilizing cord covers.

Firefighters and faeries and monsters, oh my

Do you remember how exciting Halloween was as a child? The lead up to the big day was spent creating the perfect costume, and the night of was spent showing off and exclaiming over all the other great costumes. You might spend Nov. 1 reminiscing about how great your costume was this year, but by Nov. 2, you’d be plotting for the next year!

Some things haven’t changed, and this year, your neighborhood will be swarming with children dressed up as all sorts of creatures. As fun as it is to witness, for your beloved animals, and especially if they’re canine, it can be quite scary. People in costumes do not look like what your pets expect humans to look like. If they’re suddenly confronted with a human-sized bat or a masked superhero, it may trigger their fight-or-flight instinct. Best-case scenario, they try to take off and hide, and you’re either able to hang on to them or find them in their hiding spot. Worst-case scenario, you spend hours trying to find them, they’re injured trying to make their escape, or they respond aggressively and you run the risk of them hurting someone. You know your animal best—if you think they’ll become anxious because of the crowds and the costumes, keep them inside and follow the steps outlined above to keep them calm and quiet at home.

Keeping happy with Halloween

All of this isn’t meant to fill you with dread either. With a little preparation and thoughtfulness, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of Halloween without worrying about your pet. You can still hand out candy, or take your (human) children out trick-or-treating, knowing that you’ve taken all possible steps to keep your furry friend safe. Afterward, when you’ve placed the leftover candy out of reach and safe from curious paws, you can rest easy for another year. And start brainstorming for next year’s costume or decorations!