A pet's view of Halloween

Happy Halloween! I think this holiday gives pet owners more mixed feelings than any other day, because a majority of pets are not thrilled to have strangers dressed in funny clothes ringing the doorbell every couple of minutes.

Let’s look at it from your average dog’s perspective. It’s getting dark, and the doorbell rings. Oh boy, company! But even though these people smell like the next-door neighbor kids, they are all dressed like hobbits or Spiderman with scary masks on. Boo! one shrieks loudly. Oh no, this doesn’t seem like fun. It’s OK, they’re leaving … they’re gone. Go lie down again. Ding-dong! Oh boy, company! Oh no, it looks like another Spiderman!

As the night goes on, even the most friendly dog would get weary of this scenario being played out over and over. And pets with more delicate dispositions can get really frightened or bad tempered.

So what can be done to ease your pet’s anxiety? First, keep your pet indoors or secured in an outdoor kennel, if that’s comfortable and quiet. Even polite dogs can get grumpy outside with so many people, and even the most polite child can get obnoxious under the cover of a costume. You don’t want any bad interactions.

Other animals, most notably black cats and rabbits, are at increased risk on this holiday. Protect them from any misguided individuals by keeping them safely indoors. In fact, I’ve heard some local vets advising that you keep your black pets indoors for a day or two after Halloween, just to be safe. The same risks that apply on Halloween night exist year-round, such as cars, abusive children, other animals and even animal abuse and stealing. Halloween might be a great time to get your pet adjusted to coming indoors, at least at night.

Some other tips on reducing anxiety in your pets include:

  • Give them a toy that they can be destroy. Anxiety tends to be reduced when you can work hard on a project. For a dog, this might be a new chew toy. For a cat, try a Cosmic Scratcher or other scratching post.
  • Keep the surroundings comfortable. If your pet will be OK in the back bedroom for the night, and won’t get doubly anxious because it can’t keep an eye on the door, let it be in the more quiet location. Blankets, stuffed animals and favorite possessions can make it more pleasant. Some music – as long as it’s not haunted house noises or “Monster Mash,” can drown out the commotion at the door.
  • Try Bach’s Rescue Remedy. I admit, I’m a big advocate of this stuff because it’s worked so well for my pets. However, I know not everyone has had such success. Rescue Remedy is a blend of flower essences that can be put in a pet’s water, dropped on the tongue or gum, or rubbed on the inside of the ear. It should be re-applied regularly – as often as every 15 minutes – while the animal is stressed. I learned about this from an emergency veterinarian and believe it to be effective in tense situations.
  • Keep the goody bowl away from your pet. Nothing is more anxiety-producing for both human and animal than having to go to the emergency vet because your dog ate half the bowl of Milky Ways. Chocolate is poisonous to a dog, but tastes great to them, so it’s a real hazard.
  • Don’t dress up too much yourself. If you can avoid wearing a mask as part of your costume, do. True, your pet can smell you and determine that it’s really you, but it’s still troubling for an animal to try and figure out why its owner’s face went away and was replaced by a rubber-scented Frankenstein. (Some pets don’t actually figure this out and are highly alarmed.)
  • Don’t dress your pet in costume. OK, let’s think about this. Lots of noise, strangers, funny lights, AND you expect your pet to wear a princess tiara or a cape? Too much. Limit dress up time to short sessions, such as to take photos. And never leave a pet unattended with a head covering, neck wrap, or other type of costume. They could catch it on something and choke.
  • Turn the doorbell off. Some pets don’t hate the doorbell, and others react to it. For an animal that’s sensitive to high noises, nothing is worse than the bell ringing every few minutes. If you have a pet that reacts, think about keeping the door open so you can see trick-or-treaters approach, or sit outside with the candy.
  • Turn your porch light off early. Fewer children participate in trick-or-treating every year, it seems, and the younger ones tend to come earlier. Turn off your light after an hour or two and you’ll see most of the really cute little kids, without stressing your pets for too long.