Is Your Pet’s Halloween Costume Safe?

The National Retail Federation estimates 29 million dog and cat owners will will dress up their pets for Halloween this year. And if you follow our clinic on social media, you probably know this number includes me.

This year, I’m letting readers in on a secret – by the time those cute photos are posted, our dogs’ costumes have been removed and put away. They are more than happy to strike a pose while staring at the treats behind the camera. But they are only in it for the treats. 

They are generally not fans of costumes, and when we look at pet costumes from a pet’s point of view, it becomes easier to understand why. Here are some of the most common problems with pet Halloween costumes.

Headpieces

Our older dog Grendel, loves wearing clothes. Hats, not so much. In fact, any costume which involves a headpiece or hood drives her crazy. For most animals, anything placed over or on top of the head is perceived a threat. Additionally, these accessories often obscure vision, which can lead to further agitation. Frightened pets are more likely to bite, scratch, or bolt from the house in terror. If your pet is trying to shake off a hat, or is showing signs of distress, take it off and let him enjoy the holiday in peace.

Heavy Material

Most commercial pet costumes are made with chilly fall temperatures in mind. Halloween in South Florida usually means temperatures in the mid to upper 80’s. The flannels and fleeces that make up many pet costumes can easily lead to heat exhaustion in our climate. Keep this in mind if you are planning to bring a costumed pet to an outdoor event, especially during the day.

Strange Sizing

While pets come in all shapes and sizes, pet costumes are generally sold in the standard Small, Medium, or Large spectrum. An older, arthritic dog may experience pain upon being contorted into an ill-fitting costume. And any pet may find their costume is too constricting, or loose enough to cause tripping. If you plan to dress up your pet, make sure the costume fits properly, and they can move about freely. 

Choking Hazards

Our younger dog, Zohan genuinely enjoyed his Luke Skywalker costume in 2017. In fact, he liked it so much, he tried to eat the belt! He was equally enthusiastic about the arms on his Minion costume, and the ears on Grendel’s Pikachu costume. He is what pet toy companies call a “powerful chewer”. In other words, anything that dangles, sparkles or protrudes is fair game for destruction – and ingestion. It is not uncommon in our field to treat dogs for foreign body ingestion after the Halloween festivities have passed. And it many cases, this means risky – and expensive – surgery. For this reason, I always advise owners of puppies and kittens to rethink dressing up their pets.

Bulk

The bulk and size of some over-the-top pet costumes is what makes them so wildly entertaining. But bulky costumes can cause pets to become trapped. Accessories can catch on household objects and cause our pets to panic. In their efforts to break free, they can put themselves in danger of injury or strangulation. An older pet may may find it difficult to move in a wacky costume, or may fall trying to do so. Consider keeping costumes lightweight and simple, or opting for a festive holiday bandana instead.

Regardless of how pets are included in Halloween activities, it’s important to be aware of their location at all times. Like many holidays, Halloween can be hectic. Consider crating pets who are not having fun, or give them a quiet space where they can enjoy the evening in peace.

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic. 

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