Ten tips to avoid spooking your pets this Halloween

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Halloween will soon be here.  While Halloween may be great fun for many, it can be a time of real worry for our four-legged friends.  Having the door knocked or bell rung throughout the evening then people dressed in strange looking outfits shouting “Trick or Treat” could spook even the most placid of pets and send super-keen door greeters into a spin.

Reduce potential stress for pets this Halloween by following our top tips.   

  1. Ensure your pets’ identification is current.  If they accidently escape out the door or bolt from the garden, local authorities are better able to help return them to you.
  2. Walk your dog before it gets dark (when trick-or-treaters typically start their rounds).
  3. Secure your garden.  Check during daylight hours that there are no holes your pet could escape through, should he suddenly by surprised by a knocks on the door/shouts etc while out in the garden for his evening pee or poo.  To be safe, have your dog on a lead and keep him company in the garden.  For cats – have a clean litter tray[s] at the ready and placed in a quiet area[s] inside the home.  
  4. Create a ‘safe place’ for your pet.  To reduce high arousal, this should be a place that is away from the front door/hallway and any window[s] that look out to the main entrance.  Make this area as cosy as possible, (for example, pop an old t-shirt you have slept in onto your dog’s bed or cozy blanket) and shut the curtains/blinds.
  5. Pop some calming music on to mask noise from outside (for example, search via YouTube ‘Calming Music For Sleep’ or via Spotify ‘Through the Dog’s Ear’).  Get your pet[s] used to hearing relaxing music ahead of the day; slowly stroke your pet, if they enjoy being touched, whilst the music plays.  This can help create a positive association to the music.  Overtime, when the music is played this will trigger your pet’s limbic system, promoting restful behaviours.
  6. Help them to sniff about/chew/lick.  Purchasing treat dispensing toys (for example, foraging toys for birds, rodents and rabbits, or puzzle feeders/stuffed Kongs and lickie mats for dogs and cats) as this encourages licking, chewing and biting onto these items, helping to calm the nerves through the release of ‘happy hormones’ (such as serotonin); click here to see a great visual representation of emotions.  For ideas on how to stimulate your pet’s brain and body in a positive way, check out the  Facebook group Beyond the Bowl – Canine Enrichment and the book Playing With Your Dog
  7. Utilise calming properties.  Pop a dab of lavender oil on a hankie or tissue and place in the room where your pet is located, again you can pair the smell of lavender with relaxation ahead of the day by having this scent present in the environment when your dog is being slowly stroked, is licking on a Kong or dozing.  Alternatively, consider purchasing a dog/feline appeasing pheromone plug-in or spray and use this in their ‘safe place’.  These release ‘appeasing’ pheromones that mimic those given off from a lactating female, a function designed to reassure her offspring.  Research shows these reassuring properties persist even into adulthood, thus may help to comfort pets in situations they find worrying (such as visitor arrivals, novel and unpredictable situations).  
  8. Pet costumes.  You may want to dress up your pet for the holiday season, but most animals do not enjoy wearing clothes; they are restrictive and can be hot to wear.  Clothing may cause discomfort and unnecessary distress.  If you have a pet that does seem to enjoy wearing clothes and is used to wearing them, ensure the costume is a proper fit, and your pet can easily breathe, see, hear and move about.
  9. Leave your dog at home when you go trick-or-treating.  Seeing and being amongst groups of excitable children and adults dressed up can be intimidating for most dogs.  Set your dog up for success by leaving him at home in his ‘safe place’ and, if you can, arrange for a family member or friend to stay at home to provide company and deal with any trick-or-treaters at the door.
  10. If you’re having a Halloween bash:
    • Arrange for your dog[s] to have a sleepover elsewhere so they can relax away from the hubbub of the party.
    • Alternatively, ensure your pets have ready access to their ‘safe place’ and visitors are kept away so they can remain undisturbed.
    • Avoid placing any Halloween decoration within your pet’s reach.
    • Be careful with candles placed in carved pumpkins; these can easily be knocked over by cats and dogs.  LED lights can be a safe alternative where young children and pets are around.
    • Always clear up after a party where sweets, alcohol, costumes and special effect makeup have been used; this can be hazardous to pets.

Following these simple steps to help you and your pets have a happier and safe Halloween.  

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