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Candy. Costumes. Creepy crawlies. Who doesn’t love Halloween? Or maybe we should call it Howl-o-ween. These days, even our pets are getting into the trick-or-treat scene. I’m always astounded at the variety of inventive dog Halloween costumes available at pet supply stores or from the creative minds and talented fingers of their owners. My “grandpugs,” Willy and Bruce, are just as likely to be in costume as my beautiful little granddaughter, Reagan, and they are almost as cute.
As a veterinarian, though, I want to make sure that pets are safe and happy on this deliciously scary holiday. After all, Halloween is the second most common time of the year for pets to become lost (Independence Day is No. 1). Pets can bolt out the door when it's opened for trick-or-treaters or party guests, or can become frightened and run away while trick-or-treating. And there are other dangers, too: I’ve treated cats whose tails were set on fire by a lighted jack-o'-lantern and dogs who ate the entire contents of a trick-or-treat bag, landing them with the mother of all bellyaches.
Here’s my list of things to think about when dressing up your pup — and this advice goes double for cats.
Take your pet’s personality into account. If your animal is a shy Di instead of a social butterfly, think twice before stuffing her into a costume and parading her down the street or exhibiting her at your annual Halloween bash. But if your Pug loves to mug or your Retriever is the neighborhood greeter, go for it!
Choose a costume that fits well. It shouldn’t restrict your pet’s movement, hearing or vision, or irritate his skin or fur. Your pet should be able to bark, meow and breathe normally while wearing it.
Choose a costume that can be seen easily in the dark. If your pet’s costume is dark in color, outfit him with a fancy flashing or glow-in-the-dark collar (attached to a leash, of course) so that you always know where he is.
Choose a costume with safety in mind. It shouldn't have any buttons, beads, fringe, ties or other parts that could be chewed off and swallowed. A visit to the veterinary emergency hospital for an intestinal obstruction should not be part of your Halloween festivities.
Choose a costume that your pet doesn’t mind wearing. If he squirms and scratches at it, chances are he’s not having a good time in it. If your pet prefers to wear only his birthday suit, get him into the spirit of things with a ghoulish bandana or collar.
Try the costume on your pet well before Halloween to check for fit and comfort. You don’t want to find out at the last minute that your Dachshund refuses to walk anywhere encased in a giant hot dog bun.
Limit the amount of time your pet spends wearing the costume. It’s often best to put him in it for photos and a visit to one or two of his favorite neighbors, then take him home and let him cocoon in the buff.
The most important part of your pet’s costume is a collar and tags with information on how to return him to you. A microchip is a bonus in case the collar becomes lost. No matter what else your pet is wearing, protect him from loss.
Unless you’re sure your dog or cat loves greeting strangers, put him in a safe room away from the front door. This will help keep him from being stressed by all the noise and unusual sights that accompany the trick-or-treat tradition.
If your dog will be attending an event with other pets, be sure he is fully protected against contagious diseases and enjoys the company of his fellow four-footers. A fearful or unsocial dog is unhappy at best and aggressive at worst.
Keep candy out of reach. Items containing chocolate or an artificial sweetener called xylitol are toxic to pets, and lollipop sticks can cause choking or intestinal obstructions. If you have guests, set out a bowl of treats that they can offer your pet so he can participate in the fun without getting sick.
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