Halloween hazards and Bonfire Night - how to keep your pet safe
Halloween can be a wonderful time of year with lots of sweets and chocolates in abundance, creative costumes and a great time had by all. However our pets may feel very different, with dangers posed by sweets, chocolate, decorations and stress and anxiety over loud noises and spooky costumes.
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What poses a risk to my pet at Halloween?
Sweets containing the artificial sweetener xylitol are extremely toxic to dogs. They can cause low blood sugar levels very quickly after ingestion and liver damage. Emergency treatment must be administered at the veterinary clinic. Only a small amount of xylitol ingestion can cause major problems. Symptoms include vomiting, incoordination, lethargy, collapse, seizures and tremors. Left untreated it can be life threatening.
Chocolate contains theobromine which is toxic to dogs and cats, with dark chocolate containing a higher concentration of this substance. Theobromine (as well as caffeine in chocolate) causes vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, increased heart rate and seizures. If a toxic amount of chocolate is eaten, emergency treatment must be initiated at the veterinary clinic.
Dispose of pumpkins carefully as dogs may try to eat old mouldy pumpkins, which can make them quite sick.
Many pets like to explore things with their mouths and may swallow things they shouldn’t, which can cause a lot of problems. Be careful with lanterns and candles and ensure your pet does not knock them over as there is a risk of burns / fire.
Anxiety and stress
Halloween can cause anxiety and stress to our pets for a variety of reasons including:
New visitors to the house
Scary costumes and masks which can cause them distress
Dressing up our pets - whilst we may think it is cute, it can cause many pets anxiety. Some costumes can also impede their natural movement.
Lots of knocks at the door and loud noises from parties and fireworks.
Risk of escape
With increased stress levels, our pets may be looking for a quick exit from the situation if we have not provided them with a safe space. Loud noises from fireworks may startle our pets into escaping from the garden or bolting on a walk.
Bonfire hazards to wildlife
It is best to prepare the bonfire on the same day and not before as hedgehogs looking to hibernate at this time of year may view your bonfire as the ideal spot. If you prepare it the day before, carefully move pieces of wood and check for any form of wildlife that may have taken refuge there and gently relocate them before starting the bonfire.
What can I do to make Halloween as safe for my pets as possible?
Keep sweets and chocolates away from pets. Seek immediate veterinary attention if they ingest anything they shouldn’t.
Do not take dogs on trick or treat walks as they may get scared by large groups of people in costumes and try to escape. Fireworks may also cause them distress, leading them to bolt.
Walk your dog earlier in the evening where fireworks are less likely to be let off. If they need the toilet later on, keep them on a lead in the garden to prevent risk of escape if they become spooked.
Keep cats indoors if possible after 7pm during Halloween and firework season.
Check your pets microchip details are up to date in case they escape - an up to date microchip is the quickest way to ensure you are reunited with your pet should the worst happen.
Ensure your pet has a quiet, safe place to escape to in the house if you are having a party. Ensure they have everything they need in their safe space. Close the curtains and keep the TV / music on to help drown out the noise of fireworks.
The use of synthetic pheromones such as Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats may be useful to reduce anxiety during these times.
If pets are housed outside such as rabbits, consider bringing their enclosure inside. You can also move their home into a garage or shed space to give them more cover. A thick blanket can be put around their enclosure and provide them with extra bedding so they can bury themselves to drown out the loud noises (ensure there is still sufficient airflow into their home).
If your pet is severely affected by a firework phobia, speak to your vet who may be able to prescribe some medication to assist with anxiety. Prevention is usually better than cure, so start young with a “Sounds Scary” desensitisation programme. This can also be used for dogs with a current fear of fireworks but has to be started months in advance of Bonfire night in order to have the desired effect.
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This article was written by Amy Everden RVN, CSQP, ISFM CertFN. Amy is a registered veterinary nurse (RVN) who has worked in a variety of first opinion and 24 hour veterinary hospitals. In 2019 she completed her certificate in Feline Nursing with distinction.