Halloween is full of spooky fun, but it's a holiday that could also be full of dangers if people aren't cautious. People take extra care to make sure their kids' costumes, candy and trick-or-treat excursions are safe, but what about their pets? These same Halloween traditions can also be hazardous to animals.
This year, the National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend about $6.9 billion on Halloween-related items. That's a lot of candy that will be lying around many households and potentially posing one of the biggest dangers to pets.
But it's not just candy that's a Halloween health hazard to pets. The following pages discuss what veterinarians say are some ways to make it a safe holiday for everyone.
Although family pets may want to loot the Halloween candy as much as kids and adults, chocolate, baked goods and other treats can be toxic to animals.
"A chemical in chocolate -- theobromine -- is toxic to dogs. They can't metabolize it," said Jules Benson, a veterinary and vice president of Petplan, a health insurance plan for pets. "The caffeine isn't good for them, either. It can affect the cardiac system and the central nervous system."
Chocolate also has a lot of sodium, which in some cases can trigger a medical emergency.
"If a dog is a fragile congestive heart failure patient, it can lead to a cardiac crisis," said Bernadine Cruz, a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and an associate veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Hills, Calif.
Eating just a little bit of milk chocolate won't necessarily be harmful. Marty Becker, a veterinarian at North Idaho Animal Hospital, said a large dog would have to eat a lot of chocolate to get sick, and it takes about three ounces of milk chocolate -- about an average-size chocolate bar -- to make a 10-pound dog ill.
But other types of chocolate are much more dangerous. The worst kind of chocolate for for pets is baking chocolate, followed by dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Just one ounce of baking chocolate can poison a 50-pound dog, Benson said.
Sugar-free candy and treats often contain xylitol, which is also very harmful to pets.
"It takes very little to be potentially lethal for a dog," said Becker.
Even if a pet doesn't get a hold of a piece of candy, the wrappers can also be dangerous.
"They can sometimes cause reactions in the stomach, or can cause intestinal blockages," said Benson.
"Halloween is the second most common holiday for pets to get lost. The Fourth of July is the most common," said Becker.
For many households, Halloween brings a parade of trick-or-treaters in colorful costumes, which means there are many opportunities for pets to run out the front door.
"The biggest risk is the pet becoming lost, and if they get lost, they can get injured," said Becker.
Pets should be kept on a leash, even the ones who rarely run or escape. Pets should have some sort of identification on them, such as a collar and tag or a microchip in case of escape.
Seeing strangers dressed in creepy costumes may also cause dogs to instinctively bark ferociously or lunge at trick-or-treaters, even if they are normally friendly. Barking or growing may scare children, so dogs should be leashed or kept in another room.
Pets should not go trick-or-treating, veterinarians say.
"Leave pets at home," said Cruz. "Kids dressed up and making lots of noise can scare pets, and they may try to escape and part of that escape may be accidentally biting a child or an adult."
Some animals get stressed easily, and the constant flow of people in strange costumes, the noises, lights and decorations can cause a lot of anxiety.
"Keep them somewhere away from the front door to keep them calm," said Benson. "Find a quiet room and keep water, toys and a comfortable bed." He also recommends not taking pets trick-or-treating.
There are a number of products that can help de-stress pets. Becker said there are products such as pheromones, Anxitane, a chewable supplement, or he will sometimes prescribe Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. For dogs, he also recommends using pressure wraps, garments that apply gentle pressure to calm dogs down. Thundershirt is one such garment.
Benson, however, doesn't recommend sedating animals unless they are a harm to themselves or others. He suggested trying other de-stressors, such as white noise or pressure wraps.
Pets should never be around burning candles or lit jack-o-lanterns.
Animals are naturally curious, and a cat or a dog sniffing at a candle may accidentally burn their nose, Cruz said.
"It's especially true for cats that their tails can catch on fire," said Becker. "If a candle is on a counter or in a window or inside a pumpkin, tails can catch on fire if it gets knocked over." Knocking over a candle can also cause household objects to catch fire as well.
For those who choose to burn seasonal potpourri, in addition to the burn risk, cats tend to like the taste of it.
"It can cause an electrolyte imbalance in cats," said Becker.
Scented items can also irritate pets' lungs if they have respiratory issues, Cruz added.
People who want to get their pet in the Halloween spirit may choose a cute costume for the holiday. Just as with children's costumes, pet parents should be aware of a few safety pointers before choosing something for their pet to wear.
"Costumes are fine as long as the pets aren't too constricted or overheated," said Benson. He also said costumes should allow for an unobstructed field of vision and should be free of decorative items that pets can chew or swallow.
"You also want to make sure they are not going to get themselves tied up in it and fall down steps or break a paw," said Cruz.
"Most of the time, pets are in costumes just to take a few pictures nd then it comes off," said Becker. "When the costume is on, the pet should be supervised."
The AVMA says costumes also shouldn't interfere with breathing, hearing or opening the mouth. They also recommend that pet owners get their pets accustomed to wearing a costume before the holiday.
Some adults opt to give trick-or-treaters healthier snacks, and it's not uncommon for children to come home with little boxes of raisins among their loot.
While raisins are healthier for humans, they can be harmful to pets, especially for dogs.
"Raisins and grapes are very toxic to the kidneys. Even a small amount of raisins can cause kidney failure," said Benson.
"We don't know what that toxic component is, and it doesn't happen in all dogs," said Cruz. "The quantity of raisins that affect dogs can vary greatly as well."
Pet owners who want to offer a healthy treat should choose carrots or apples, veterinarians say.