Real: Hundreds of thousands of cats die in shelters each year because they’re not adopted.
Fake: That even the tiniest amount of chocolate will kill your dog. (Not totally untrue, just vastly over-hyped.)
Real: Xylitol, a low-glycemic natural sweetener found in sugar-free gum, candy, ice cream, baked goods, and even foods like peanut butter can and can kill your dog even in a minuscule amount.
My advice as an animal lover: Adopt a pet at any time of year that works for you and your family, and encourage your friends to do that same. Find pets near you by searching at The Shelter Pet Project.
My advice as a veterinarian: If you have dogs, read labels and keep anything containing xylitol out of the house. And yes, chocolate in large quantities, or smaller quantities for a small dog, can make your dog sick. But it’s nothing compared to the danger posted by xylitol!
Ghosts, goblins, and the walking dead aside, Halloween should be a time of fun, not fear, for your pets, says my son, Lex Becker.
The holiday, with its costumed hordes and mountains of candy, can spook even the most prepared pet owner. Some might be tempted to leave their pets out of the festivities altogether.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to make the season safe, positive, and a hoot for both you and your pet. For pets who enjoy the limelight, dressing up in a costume can get them the attention they crave. Halloween treats (at least, the ones that are pet-safe) can become a source of positive training, and sharing fun holiday activities can bring you close together.
Here’s a rundown on how to focus on fun, not fear, when you celebrate Halloween with your pets.
Attention. Nothing turns your pet into a neighborhood celebrity faster than a clever costume, and many pets will revel in the attention that is given to them. If your pet is fine wearing a costume, make sure it fits properly, isn’t pinching or constricting anywhere, and above all, that the costume isn’t causing them any stress. If they find costumes uncomfortable, consider a decorative collar or festive toy instead . If you sense at any point that your pet is becoming overwhelmed by the attention they’re receiving, put them somewhere quiet for a break. Some pets just aren’t social. If this is the case with yours, leave them home on Halloween where they are comfortable.
Time to practice manners. Everyone in the house munching on sugar bombs might drive your pets batty, but you can turn this to your advantage by using the time to practice manners with your pet. Keeping a handful of pet-safe treats with you to reinforce positive habits such as sitting when they greet someone, not begging, and keeping quiet will leave you with a well behaved pet and not a monster on the first of November.
Bonding. Creating memories is one of the great joys of sharing your life with pets, and Halloween provides a cornucopia of opportunities. Making pet-friendly treats will let them join in on all of the waistline-expanding fun safely. Consider taking your dog out to the park for photos of fall foliage, attend a pet costume contest, or even throw your own puppy costume party.
Candy. Many pet owners are already aware of the dangers of chocolate, but less so of the sweetener xylitol. Chocolate contains the chemical compounds of theobromine and caffeine that can make your pets sick if eaten in significant amounts. Chocolate can even be deadly to your pet depending, on his or her weight and the type of chocolate consumed. Xylitol, however, is incredibly dangerous for dogs, and much smaller amounts can lead to death. Even a stick of gum – a treat often sweetened with xylitol – can kill your pet. Xylitol is turning up in more and more foods now, including peanut butter, low carb or diabetic sweets, candy, baked goods and baking mixes – almost anything is suspect, so read labels carefully before sharing with your pets.
Runaways. With the door constantly opening for ghoulish visitors and family and friends passing through the house, the chances for pet door-dashing are increased. Make sure pets are either contained to a safe area of the house or are otherwise prevented from exiting doorways. Pets should be properly ID’d and collared for safe recovery in case they do make it out of the home. Any outdoor pets should be brought in the house or otherwise safely contained.
Decorations. Electronics, candles, pumpkins, and other decorations can pose a risk to pets. Make sure that wires are out of the way to prevent pets from pulling things off shelves and put candles out of reach to keep curious cats from burning themselves or starting a fire. While the traditional Halloween decorations of pumpkins and corn aren’t poisonous to pets, they can cause stomach discomfort if eaten in large amounts.
Lex grew up on a ranch in small town North Idaho with a family life centered around pets and wildlife. He attended the University of Idaho in Moscow, and worked in the startup world in Boston. He’s extensively traveled to over 50 countries, lived in three, and is planning the journey through the rest. Lex enjoys good food, a surfboard, and a cat on his lap.
To my friends and neighbors, and anyone planning a trip to northern Idaho during October: You have a chance to have a scary lot of fun and help our community’s homeless pets at the same time!
Second Chance Animal Adoption, the shelter where I adopted my beloved Gracie, is holding its fifth annual Howloween Town at the Animal Shelter & Thrift Store grounds on Friday, October 28, Saturday, October 29, and Monday, October 31, from 5:30-9 pm. The event will be fun for the whole family, and includes:
Skits, music, and story telling
Revamped haunted house and maze
Boardwalk of games
Teresa and me dressed as squirrels on Saturday and Halloween nights (seriously!)
I know most of you aren’t from northern Idaho or we’d see a lot more people around town, but it’s a great event and a great cause. If you can, please come and have wicked fun with us!