How to Make Halloween Fun and Safe for Your Pet

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Halloween, or “howl-o-ween,” as we like to call it, has been fun for people for decades, and it’s no surprise that pets are getting in on the act, too. There are pet Halloween costumes, pumpkin-spice pet treats, and pet-oriented Halloween parties, parades, and other events at parks, veterinary clinics, and shelters.

But not every pet enjoys this “boo-ti-full” holiday. Often, they think it’s downright scary—and not in a good way. We have some tips to help make it fun for them, not frightening.

Costumes, Yea or Nay?

Depends on the pet. Some love to play dress up—Pugs come to mind—while others would rather prance around in their birthday suit or, at most, wear a pumpkin-printed bandana. Take time to make sure a pet’s costume fits comfortably and doesn’t restrict vision, hearing, breathing, or ability to move. Avoid anything with buttons, bows, fringe or other items that could be chewed off and swallowed. Choose a costume that’s visible in the dark or equip your dog with a light-up leash or collar. Most important, be sure he’s having fun wearing it. If his eyes and ears are soft and relaxed, his mouth is open in a smile, and his tail is waving gently, he’s having a good time. Not so much if he’s showing the whites of his eyes or his pupils are dilated, his ears are back, or his tail is tucked.

Trick or Treat?

Whether you want to take your dog trick or treating or have her help you greet trick or treaters at the front door, take a few things into consideration first. Dogs who bark at the doorbell or are suspicious of strangers—especially those dressed like storm troopers, Frankenstein or Vampira—may be happier in a back room with a special plug-in to deliver soothing pheromones and a puzzle toy stuffed with edible goodies. Dogs who think zombies, Godzilla and Wonder Woman are their new best friends will likely enjoy attending a monster bash, walking the neighborhood with you, or helping you hand out candy. Speaking of which…

Candy Isn’t Dandy

Not for dogs, anyway. Keep the sweet stuff well out of reach. That goes double for dark chocolate, which is toxic to dogs. So is anything sweetened with xylitol, a sugar substitute often found in baked goods, gum and candy.

Other Tips

Barricade your front door with a baby gate or exercise pen or keep him on leash to make sure your pet doesn’t run out. He should also be wearing a collar with ID tags in case he gives you the slip. Halloween is second only to Independence Day as the most common holiday that pets become lost, says Marty Becker, DVM, founder of the Fear Free initiative.

Use treats or favorite toys to help condition your dog or cat to wearing a costume, being comfortable around people in costume, or to the sights and sounds of scary inflatables or other Halloween décor. When a decoration makes a sound, give a treat or toss a tennis ball. When you put on her butterfly wings, pair that action with treats. Drop treats on the floor for him before you open the door to trick-or-treaters. That’s how to make Halloween fun for your dog.

Black Is Always in Style

Last but not least, make Halloween a lucky day for a black dog or cat by giving one a new home. They are often overlooked in shelters because it can be difficult to photograph them well or they simply blend into the background. Remember, black is chic, sophisticated and always in style—and that goes for pets as well as fashion.

Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife and marine life since 1985 and is a recipient of multiple awards from the Cat Writers Association, Dog Writers Association of America, and American Society of Journalists and Authors. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s competing in nose work trials with Harper, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.