It’s Halloween and time for carving jack-o’-lanterns, trick-or-treating, wearing scary costumes, visiting haunted houses, and throwing spooky parties with lots of candy. Humans love this time of year, but for our cats, this holiday can be dangerous and stressful. You can help keep your feline friends safe with a few simple preparations.
Keep cats inside. Halloween brings many loud, excited, costumed children to your door who yell and ring the doorbell for hours. Most cats will find this extremely stressful; anxiety and panic may set in leading to hiding or bolting out of the frequently opened door. Outside, frantic cats can become lost or be hit by cars driven by drivers distracted by the Halloween crowds. Cats will much prefer a closed, quiet room outfitted with favorite toys, food, water, treats, a scratching post, and a litter box. A new Halloween-themed blanket would be a perfect gift for this special night. If you are having a party, make sure guests understand that the room is not to be opened. And since the best plans sometimes are disrupted, make sure your cat is microchipped (with details up to date) and wears a reflective breakaway collar with ID tags, just in case.
Keep cats out of the candy. Cats in general don’t seem to like Halloween candy, but that does not apply to every cat. Also, people may try to tempt cats to eat candy, and some cats might oblige. Besides causing an upset stomach resulting in vomiting and diarrhea, eating candy can expose cats to chocolate toxicity. Some cats have been known to eat entire bags of Hershey’s kisses. The toxic dose for methylxanthines (theobromine/caffeine found in chocolate) in cats is about the same as for dogs. Interestingly enough, in 2018 it was found that xylitol, an artificial sweetener used increasingly in candy, baked goods, and chewing gum appears not to be as toxic to cats as it is to dogs. In dogs, xylitol causes a rapid and life-threatening lowering of blood sugar as well as dose-dependent severe liver disease. Candy wrappers can cause choking, and ingested cellophane or foil can cause gastrointestinal obstructions requiring surgical removal. If your cat has eaten candy or wrappers, call your veterinarian immediately.
Avoid costumes. Cats in costumes may be cute, but they are also likely unhappy and stressed. If you must dress your cat up, buy easily removed pet costumes, and never leave costumed cats unattended. In a frantic attempt to get out of the costume or to simply move, cats can choke, become entangled, or have circulation cut off to an extremity. Quickly take a picture of them, and then undress them. Better yet, take a picture of your undressed cat on their new Halloween blanket and apply a digital Halloween costume to the image. Concerning humans dressing up for Halloween, cats may become confused and fearful of family members or people they normally know if those people are wearing costumes.
Keep decorations out of reach. Cats are attracted to candles, even those that are within a carved pumpkin. Inquisitive cats can burn paws, noses, or whiskers, and they may tip the candle over and start a fire. Battery-powered candles are safer. Stringy fake cobwebs can cause choking or intestinal obstruction. Orange and purple string lights are festive, but they can cause tangling or electric cord bite injury. Consider using battery-powered lights, but keep the lights and battery out of your cat’s reach. Glow sticks are popular at Halloween; if bitten, they taste very bitter and cause lots of drooling, foaming, and hyperactivity in cats. If this happens, give your cat milk or tuna juice to drink to dilute the taste, and wipe any residual material from their fur.
Emergencies. At Halloween and always, have veterinary emergency phone numbers within easy reach. Know the route to the nearest emergency clinic. If possible, call first.
A word about black cats. They are symbolic of Halloween and associated with witches, bad luck, magic, and superstition – all the scary things that represent Halloween in America. Compared to cats of other colors, they take longer to adopt from animal shelters. So, at Halloween (and all year round), we should strive to neutralize the black cat stigma. Positive efforts in shelters include improving photographic techniques (black cats are notoriously hard to photograph well for online potential adopters), choosing unique names (refrain from the usual Blackie or Midnight), and holding special events for black cats.
~ Debra Teachout, DVM, MVSc
Dr. Teachout retired from small animal practice in March 2020 and started a second career in editing and writing. Throughout her veterinary career, she has tried to balance her time between treating the individual animal who needs veterinary care and advocating for large groups of animals who need attention, protection, and legislation to prevent abuse. Currently, she edits animal-oriented manuscripts and especially likes assisting veterinary authors for whom English is a second language. Dr. Teachout lives near Chicago on an acre of wooded land with her husband, cat, and pet rabbit.