Take costume precautions. Pet Halloween costumes are becoming more common, but before you play holiday dress-up with your pet, make sure the costume doesn't impair the animal's movement, hearing, sight, or ability to breathe, bark, eat, drink, or go to the bathroom. Choking hazards are also common, so be sure to ID any potential problems with a pet costume before dressing your pet up. Better yet? Substitute elaborate (and probably uncomfortable) dog or cat costumes for a simple, festive bandanna.
Tread lightly. If your furry friend is going to play trick-or-treat with his two-legged family members, be sure he is outfitted with a reflective jacket or collar. Collars with strong LED lights are a good idea, as are head lamps and leashes equipped with flashlights. The goal is to be seen by fellow pedestrians and drivers, but also keep in mind that should your pet get loose, he will still be visible in the dark, advises Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services at Petplan pet insurance.
Avoid deadly sweets. You've probably heard that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is toxic to dogs. In fact, ASPCA's Animal Control Center sees a 39 percent increase in calls involving chocolate exposures during Halloween time compared to the rest of the year. But a lesser-known—and potentially fatal—toxin is a candy, gum, and baked goods sweetener called xylitol. Xylitol doesn't hurt humans, but even tiny amounts can send your dog into seizures or cause depression or a loss of coordination. Signs of a chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination, heart rhythm abnormalities, and even seizures. The takeaway? Keep the candy dish, bulging trick-or-treat bags, and purses containing gum way out of paws' reach.
Beware of healthy human treats, too. Some pet parents prefer to hand out raisins to trick-or-treating children instead of sugary sweets. While healthier for children, raisins are terribly toxic to pets—especially dogs. Even in small doses, raisin consumption can cause kidney failure in four-legged family members, so treat these treats with care by keeping them well away from pets, Dr. Benson advises.
Opt for no glow. If you have children, or if your dog is accompanying the neighborhood kids on their Halloween night escapades, beware of glow sticks, glow in the dark necklaces, and other jewelry. Some dogs are known to eat anything, and while punctured glow sticks are unlikely to be lethal, they may cause irritation of the mouth and throat, as well as make an awful mess. Cats should avoid glow-in-the-dark devices, too, Dr. Benson says.
Create a holiday safe house. Trick-or-treating may be a blast for kids, but it can be a really scary night for pets. The presence of strangers, scary outfits, and the constantly ringing doorbell and knocking on the door can make pets very nervous and more prone to running away. Keep your pet in a separate room on trick-or-treat night to reduce his or her stress. "Be sure that your pet has ID tags, should he or she accidentally get loose," adds Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center. "Halloween brings a flurry of activity with visitors constantly arriving at the door, and pets can easily slip out unnoticed."
Be careful with trash. Candy and gum wrappers aren't worth much to people, but cats enjoy their crinkly characteristics. Watch out for those wrappers, though. Felines may love to play with them, but ingesting aluminum foil or cellophane can cause intestinal blockage and vomiting. Keep your trash and empty wrappers out of reach, somewhere cats can't find them.
Avoid hazardous decorations. Nothing says "Happy Halloween" like an illuminated jack-o'-lantern. But since pets can easily knock over candles, opt for LED candles for safer ambience. If your pet's a notorious chewer, be sure to keep wires and cords from decorations out of reach.
If your dog or cat accidentally eats any potentially harmful products and you need emergency advice, please consult your veterinarian or call the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (a consultation fee applies).