While some pets may understand that costumes and excited children are part of Halloween fun, many fear common holiday activities. This creates an increased potential for dog bites.
“Dogs believe they are the guardians of their homes, and they can feel threatened if a stranger enters their space,” explains Dr. James O. Cook, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “If your dog is apprehensive in these situations, you need to be sensitive to that and make preparations before Halloween to keep your dog—and all the little neighborhood ghosts and goblins—safe.”
Costumes can be very confusing for dogs, causing them to react in unexpected ways, Dr. Cook explains. For example, some dogs will bark in alarm or show signs of aggression even when an owner or friend puts on a mask or costume.
“What’s important is that you be responsive to your dog and prepare ahead of time for the holiday,” he says. “If your dog gets nervous when the doorbell rings, put the dog in a place where it will feel safe. This could be inside a crate with a favorite toy or treat, or inside a familiar room with the door closed. This will make the dog feel safer and calmer.
“If your dog appears to be excessively stressed, look to your veterinarian for help,” he adds.
Candy is another common Halloween problem. Chocolate (whether organic or nonorganic) is poisonous to dogs, as is xylitol (an artificial sweetener found in many chewing gums). Store Halloween candy where your dog cannot reach it, as most pets will gladly indulge if given the opportunity.
“Children tend to want to share their treats with their pets, and the dog is all too happy to oblige,” Dr. Cook explains. “Warn your children beforehand that table scraps are unhealthy for pets, and that candy can be deadly.”
As for children’s fears, monsters under the bed may seem scarier—and visit more frequently—around Halloween. To help ease fears, child psychologists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center urge parents to help their children interpret Halloween as a make-believe situation. For example, show kids that someone is just wearing a mask by asking the person to remove it. Also allow children to try on their costumes before Halloween, which gives them time to get used to their appearance.