Halloween is almost here, and as you search for the perfect candy hiding spot, ensure you select a place safe from your pets, as well as your human family. Like us, dogs and cats find candy’s colorful wrappers, sweet flavors, and small size irresistible. But, candy and other Halloween sweets pose dangerous hazards for pets. Don’t let a sugar rush become a rush to the veterinary clinic—learn to recognize Halloween treat hazards, and provide your dog or cat with pet-safe alternatives.
Why is candy dangerous for pets?
In addition to a spike in blood sugar, dogs and cats are vulnerable to other sweet but deadly disasters. The most common Halloween treat-related emergencies include:
- Choking — Dogs may swallow whole candies in quick succession, wrapper and all, while cats may ingest the shiny, toy-like wrappers or ribbon. If a piece becomes lodged in their throat, or enters the trachea, your pet will cough, to dislodge the item. If they are unsuccessful, you will need to perform the Heimlich maneuver to free the trapped candy or wrapper from your dog or cat’s airway.
- Toxicity — Common candy ingredients can make your pet sick, cause permanent organ damage, or death. Store candy in a closed container in an inaccessible, overhead cabinet. Do not display candy in bowls, or allow children to keep candy in their rooms. Watch out for the following candy and baking ingredients:
- Xylitol or birch sugar
- Raisins or grapes
- Macadamia nuts
- Vomiting and diarrhea — Sugar, preservatives, and flavorings may cause digestive upset.
- Intestinal blockage — Wrappers, candies, and small party favors can lodge in the gastrointestinal tract, forming an obstruction that requires surgical removal.
Why does my pet need Halloween treats?
Because many pets become frightened and escape their homes on Halloween night, we recommend keeping your pet confined in a small room, pen, or crate during parties, or trick-or-treating hours. Treats provide a safe, healthy, and fun way to ensure your pet’s comfort and satisfaction during their alone time. With treats, you can entice your confined pet to:
- Play hunting games — Your pet is required to sniff out hidden treats.
- Enjoy long-lasting rewards — Fill a Kong, Toppl, or LickiMat with soft, wet ingredients (e.g., canned food, yogurt, peanut butter, cheese spread) for extended enjoyment. For an additional challenge, freeze before serving.
- Focus on a puzzle toy — Keep your pet’s mind focused on positive rewards, such as a treat-dispensing puzzle toy, rather than the spooky sounds outside.
Halloween-themed treats for pets
On Halloween, exercise your pet during the early afternoon before any neighborhood activities begin. Then, once your dog is situated in their safe space, provide them with one of these Halloween-themed treats:
- Pumpkin fro-yo — ’Tis the season for pumpkin-flavored everything. Make your dog a trendy pumpkin treat. Combine one to two tablespoons of pure pumpkin with plain yogurt, freeze the mixture in ice cube molds, and serve whole, or stuffed in a Kong. Pumpkin is rich in vitamins and minerals, and a healthy fiber source.
- Sweet potato chews — For another orange treat, dehydrate thinly sliced sweet potatoes for a chewy delight. Dogs love their smell and taste, and you’ll love them because sweet potatoes are high in fiber, low in fat, and vitamin-packed. Observe your pet during their first few chew sessions, because ovens vary, and you may need to dehydrate the chews longer, to achieve the desired texture.
- Tuna training treats for dogs and cats — Ask any positive reinforcement dog trainer about easy high value DIY treats, and they’ll tell you about this recipe. Cats love this fish-based treat, too. Canned salmon or chicken can be substituted for tuna. Slice the treats with a pizza cutter, to make tiny, bite-sized pieces ideal for scent games and food puzzles.
- Pumpkin-peanut butter Kong — Combine plain yogurt, a dab of peanut butter, and one to two tablespoons of canned pumpkin, and fill your pet’s Kong. You can adjust the ingredients according to your pet. Top with a pumpkin dog biscuit, if you’re feeling especially gourmet.
Let your pet trick-or-treat with these treat-hunting games
Food-motivated dogs and cats enjoy foraging for treats. Foraging is an instinctive behavior, and activates the brain’s seeking circuit, which is inherently rewarding—arguably more rewarding than actually finding or consuming the food. Put your pet’s nose to work with these simple but satisfying games:
- Outdoor food or treat scatter — Simply toss your pet’s treats or food in the grass. Ensure the grass is not chemically treated, and play this game only with your pet leashed, or in a fenced area. Be advised, this search can take a while! For your indoor pet, try a snuffle mat or a textured rug. Monitor your pet, to ensure they eat the treats, and not the mat.
- Special delivery — Arrange small to medium-sized cardboard boxes in a row or circle and hide treats in each box. Release your pet into the room, and allow them to investigate. Progress to randomizing the treated boxes, partially closing the boxes, and hiding the boxes themselves.
- Trash to treasure — Place a few treats inside a cardboard paper towel or toilet paper roll, and fold in the ends. Entice your pet by shaking the roll gently, and then let them figure out how to access the treats. Crumple brown packing paper around a few treats, and do the same.
Show your pet there’s nothing to fear this Halloween by mixing up these fun new treats, and tricky games. For more information about safe and unsafe foods for pets, contact Airway Animal Clinic.