With Halloween just around the corner, many parents are scrambling to get costumes ready for the big day. While searching for costumes for my 2-year-old son, I was amazed to see how many costumes are marketed for animals. While it might be tempting to dress your dog or cat up for Halloween, I wondered, is it safe? I asked the experts at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and their advice was to put your pet in a costume only if you’re sure he’ll enjoy it. They say some pets don’t mind wearing a costume for a quick photo op, but many others will be unnecessarily stressed. If you do decide to put your pet in a costume, the ASPCA has some helpful safety tips to keep in mind:
• Your pet’s Halloween garb should not constrict his movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow.
• Examine your pet’s costume and make sure it doesn’t have any small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that he could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get caught on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.
• IDs, please! Make sure your dog or cat has proper identification on underneath that cute costume. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost during Halloween festivities, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver.
Aside from making considerations about dressing up your pet, Halloween can also be a stressful time for animals for other reasons. There are unfamiliar noises, strangers in costumes, and knocks at the door all night, among many other things. The following are suggestions to keep your pet safe and stress-free this Halloween.
Keep your pet in a safe and quiet part of the house.
Constant knocking and doorbell ringing all night can be stressful for pets. Loud noises and people in costumes could cause your pet to become agitated and uncharacteristic behavior may result. Cats also tend to run when they hear loud noises, so make sure they stay inside. Unless you have a very social dog, the best place for your pets on Halloween is tucked away in a quiet room of the house and out of harm’s way. You may also want to play soothing music to drown out the noise and activity.
Keep chocolate out of your pet’s reach.
Eating chocolate can be fatal for a pet. Chocolate contains a substance known as theobromine, a bitter, caffeine-related alkaloid that can have a dangerous effect on your pet. If this chemical builds up in your pet’s system, it can be lethal. The effects of theobromine on a pet depends on their size and the quantity of chocolate eaten. Less than 1 oz. of chocolate per pound of body weight (i.e., less than 10 oz. eaten by a 10 pound animal) can be lethal. If your pet ingests any amount of chocolate, call your veterinarian right away and report your pet’s weight and the estimated amount of chocolate ingested. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, heavy breathing, muscle tremors, seizures, lack of bladder control, and in the most severe toxicity cases, coma. These blatant indicators mean something is wrong with your pet, and they require prompt veterinary attention.
Keep your pets away from Xylitol
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that can be found in many forms of foods and candy products. Xylitol is not known to be dangerous to people; however, veterinarians are seeing increased rates of Xylitol poisoning in dogs. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that in 2009 there were more than 2,500 cases of Xylitol poisoning in pets handled by the ASPCA, which represents a 40-percent increase over a three-year period. A veterinarian should see any animal that ingests Xylitol, even in very small amounts, immediately.
Keep decorations out of reach.
Make sure decorations that pets could chew on (like streamers and fake spider webs) are out of reach. I’ve seen a case where a cat’s intestines became clogged after consuming a synthetic spider web, so I would caution against decorating your house with these webs if you have curious cats. Also make sure jack-o-lanterns with candles and flames are out of harm’s way.
Make sure your pet has proper identification.
Your pet should be wearing a collar, along with a proper ID tag, in case your pet escapes despite your best attempts. If your pet becomes lost, check with your local humane society and animal control right away. For more advice on locating your lost pet, refer to this previous Pet Chat column, http://independent.com/news/2009/may/22/what-do-when-your-pet-goes-missing/
A Word About Black Cats
The superstition surrounding black cats cause them to be the target of pranks on Halloween. Therefore, people with black cats should be extra careful about keeping them safely inside on Halloween. The concern is serious enough that most humane societies avoid adopting out black cats during the Halloween season due to the risk of them being harmed.
Keeping these safety tips in mind, you can have a safe and happy Halloween with your children and pets!
Don’t Forget to Take Advantage of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month! Santa Barbara County Animal Services will be celebrating by offering 20 percent off adoption fees all month long at all three of their county shelters — Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria. When you adopt from Animal Services, the adoption fee includes all applicable vaccinations, a complimentary health exam, spay or neuter, as well as a free bag of Science Diet dog food. For more information, visit or contact one of the three Animal Services locations:
Santa Barbara: 5473 Overpass Road, (805) 681-5285
Lompoc: 1501 West Central Avenue, Lompoc, (805) 737-7755
Santa Maria: 548 W. Foster Road, Santa Maria, (805) 934-6119
Adoptable Pet of the Week
If you want a playful and super active cat in your life, then Echo is your boy! His acrobatic feats are truly astonishing — if Echo were human, he would be a member of a trapeze troupe. This energetic boy really needs a family with children to use up his energy. Yet this 2-year-old short-haired white and black feline is gentle and affectionate, gets along with dogs and other cats, and will fit in with any home. Echo must be indoor-only because of his pink nose and ears.
Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization that takes care of the cats and kittens at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter. ASAP provides humane care for these animals and works to eliminate the practice of euthanizing them for reasons other than serious health or behavior problems.
For more information, visit ASAP at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road, Santa Barbara. Adoption hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m., Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. For more information, visit: www.asapcats.org or call 805-683-3368
The following is included in the adoption fee at ASAP: spay or neuter surgery, flea treatment, vaccinations, microchipping, health evaluation, including testing for feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Cats thought to be 10 years or older receive a full blood panel evaluation, thus assuring that the cat is indeed healthy and adoptable. Also included is medical and drug coverage through ASAP’s vet for two weeks beyond adoption, temperament evaluation (if necessary), and cat carrier (you can save the County money by bringing your own).
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Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions, www.animaladoptionsolutions.com