Paw-o-ween: Halloween Animal Myths

Halloween dog

Halloween is a mystical holiday, full of supernatural creatures with magical powers. The spirits inhabiting All Hallows Eve and the Day of the Dead, have given us some animal myths. In this blog post, I dig deeper into the myths and determine if they are fact or fiction.

Chicken Halloween Costumes are the New Trend
Halloween spending in the United States is expected to top $9 billion in 2018, many of the dollars spent on costumes. Two weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook with chickens in Halloween costumes. The idea seemed over the top, but harmless until I received an email entitled, “CDC calls foul on Halloween costumes for backyard chickens.” The CDC warns chicken owners not festoon their fowl for Halloween amid an outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella. The CDC also says people should not cuddle chickens and should sanitize surfaces that have come into contact with raw poultry in order to protect themselves and their family against Salmonella from their feathered family members.

For tips on raising backyard poultry safely, read the CDC backyard poultry guidelines.

Black Cats are Bad Luck
This legend apparently started in England. Charles I had a black cat so prized, it was given its own security guard. The cat took ill and died the day Charles I was arrested. Across the pond in America, around the time of the Salem witch trials, black cats were thought to be witches in disguise, to carry demons, or to possess special powers and abilities. The rational person believes this is a total myth, but probably doesn’t know cats and also dogs with black coats are less likely to be adopted from a shelter than those dogs and cats with brown, white or multicolored coats. Animal protection organizations report black cats are often mistreated around Halloween. So, in fact, this is not a myth, a black cat is unlucky, but to himself not to us!

Pumpkin is Good for Pets
If you are one of the millions of pet owners feeding pumpkin to your pet, you know it makes a world of difference to your constipated cat or dog with fiber responsive intestinal disease. All this happens safely, inexpensively, and without drug therapy. Leading up to Halloween, every NYC farmer’s market, bodega, and grocery store is loaded with pumpkins for carving into Jack-o-lanterns. After the trick-or-treaters have come and gone, the pumpkins will linger on the front porches and stoops of our neighborhoods becoming moldy and rotten. Pet families should be sure to throw away the spent pumpkins before one of your pets decides to nibble on the decorative gourd and induce a bout of gastrointestinal upset.

Wishing all our readers a happy and safe Howl-o-ween!

The Horrors of Halloween: The Pet Version

halloween pets

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen. The moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween. – 19th century postcard

Although black cats are one of the spooky creatures connected with Halloween, many cats and dogs may not be as excited about Halloween as their families are. Halloween has become one of America’s premier holidays, and according to the National Retail Foundation, the total spending for the holiday in 2017 is expected to reach $9.1 billion. But have pets fallen under the magical spell of Halloween like their families have? Candy, costumes, witches and wizards can make Halloween downright frightful for pets.

Tricks Not Treats
About one-third of the money spent on Halloween goes towards the purchase of candy. But the trick or treat bags should be off-limits for pets. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine. The amount is lowest in white chocolate and highest in dark chocolate, but any chocolate consumption is risky in pets because chocolate causes vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity. Some health conscious spirits distribute little boxes of raisins as an alternative to candy. But when dogs consume raisins, these healthy little snacks become tricks, not treats, and can damage your dog’s kidneys. If your dog eats sugar-free Halloween treats containing xylitol, expect a hair-raising trip to the animal ER because xylitol can be lethal in dogs.

Keep the candy cauldron out of your pet’s reach to prevent grave consequences.

Creepy Costumes
Most pets rush to the door when the doorbell rings, but the appearance of ghosts, goblins and the Grim Reaper at your door screaming “Trick or Treat” may be your pet’s version of a zombie apocalypse. Keep your pet safely confined and well away from the front door to prevent an accidental escape when unexpected apparitions startle your pet.

Of the 179 million Americans celebrating Halloween, 28 million will purchase a costume for their pet. Not all pets think dressing up is bloody good fun. Hazardous hats and tight tu-tus may turn your pet’s Halloween into a nightmare. Do a costume trial run before the big night to prevent Halloween from becoming a bad dream.

Which Witch is Pet Safe?
To create a haunting aura on Halloween, half of Americans plan to decorate their homes this year, although not all decorations are pet safe. Jack-O-Lanterns add to the eerie atmosphere of Halloween night, but the candle inside can easily set a curious cat or dog’s fur on fire. Use battery operated flickering lights in place of the traditional candles in your carved pumpkin. I love to decorate with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders. If you have cats, I don’t recommend using this scary décor since cats love to eat anything that is stringy. Strings can easily lodge in your cat’s intestine causing a blockage.

All of us at the Animal Medical Center wish you and your pets a safe and fun Howl-oween.

Halloween: Fun for You, But a Horror for Your Pet

Halloween pet dangersBags of sugary candy, a doorbell rung by jubilant children wearing clever costumes, and creative jack-o-lanterns illuminating the night. Halloween may be America’s favorite holiday and the national average for spending on candy, costumes and carved pumpkins is $74 per person. However, Halloween may not be your pet’s favorite holiday and if you don’t take precautions, Halloween may become a horror show for your favorite fur baby.

Candy May Not Be a Sweet Deal for Your Dog
Everyone, including your dog, will want to sneak a treat from the candy bowl. Two common candy ingredients make the candy bowl off limits to your dog. First, chocolate, the most popular candy ingredient, can be toxic to dogs, causing stomach upset, hyperactivity and potentially seizures. A less common, but more dangerous candy ingredient is the artificial sweetener, xylitol. Even a small amount of xylitol can be lethal to dogs as it causes liver failure and low blood sugar.

Fur on Fire
The carved pumpkin on your front stoop which greets your guests, gives a warm, friendly glow. But pets may inadvertently knock it over and singe their fur or set a rug on fire. Use an electric candle to light your jack-o-lantern and keep pumpkins out of reach of your pets. While pumpkin is not toxic, its high fiber content may cause an upset stomach.

Dress-Up Dangers
The internet is loaded with delightful videos of costumed pets – the shark cat on the Roomba and a pack of wiener dogs dressed up like wieners! All pets are adorable in costumes, but some actually hate wearing anything but their natural fur coat. Before entering your pet in the local Halloween parade, make sure he can move about in his costume and that there are no loops or buttons that present a choking hazard. Even if you think it is the cutest costume ever, if he hates it, switch to a pumpkin themed bandana or a collar with emblazoned with a skull and crossbones instead.

Preventing a Halloween Nightmare
Halloween is just not the best holiday for your pet. I suggest he spend a quiet evening away from the front door, safely tucked into his crate or carrier. If she demands to participate in the Halloween celebration, make sure she has both a microchip and a collar with an ID tag in case she slips out the front door during an encounter with a trick-or-treater. Have your pet practice wearing his costume in advance of the holiday and make any necessary alterations in the costume’s fit to ensure safety. Finally, know where the closest animal ER is located and post the pet poison control numbers, so if ingestion of candy occurs, you can call them immediately for advice.

Halloween Hazards

For children, Halloween is a long anticipated holiday featuring parties, costumes and above all, candy. Adults celebrate the holiday too, by decorating their homes and yards with ghosts, goblins and jack o'lanterns. But as you can see by the photo above of my cat, Cheetah costumed as Minnie Mouse, pets don't enjoy Halloween.

Trick or treaters constantly ringing the doorbell can make an anxious pet even more so. When the treats are passed out at the front door, they may try to escape the commotion, slipping outside unnoticed. I recommend confining your cat or dog in its crate or one room of the house while you receive trick or treaters to prevent your pet from being one of the estimated 3-4 million pets entering shelters annually. Only 25% of these pets are reunited with their families. If confining your pet is not possible, double check their collar and ID tags and if they don't have a microchip get one to help your pet come home if it succeeds in escaping while you dole out the treats.

Halloween food presents another risk for your pets, particularly dogs. Dogs can have quite a sweet tooth and will devour the entire contents of a goodie bag, but cats are too finicky to be tempted by sweets. Just like with children who over indulge on Halloween, too many treats will cause an upset stomach, or worse, vomiting and diarrhea. So keep the cauldron of treats out of reach of your dog.

Feasting on two specific sweets may end in a scary visit to the veterinary emergency room – chocolate, especially dark chocolate and xylitol. Chocolate contains a substance related to caffeine and the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine like substance it contains. Small dogs that eat chocolate are especially at risk for developing vomiting, diarrhea, an elevated heart rate and hyperexcitability. Xylitol is a low calorie sweetener in some diet foods, gum and mints. It is safe for humans, but lethal for dogs who develop low blood sugar, seizures and liver problems. If your pet eats something other than their usual fare on Halloween, don't hesitate to call Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435 to find out if you should head to the Animal ER. They take calls 24/7.

When pets are around, jack o'lanterns can be risky. Pumpkin is appealing to some dogs and cats, but that is not the problem. It is the candle inside. Pet hair can easily cat on fire if a nosy or hungry pet decides to investigate the jack o'lantern. Better to use a battery operated flickering light, which will be safer for everyone.

And if you want to see some really cute pets ready for trick or treating, check out WebMD or The AMC Facebook page.

This blog may also be found in the "Tales from the Pet Clinic" blog from WebMD.
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