Halloween and Bonfire Night can be rather confusing celebrations for our pets and while we might like being spooked on 31st October and wowed by fireworks, our dogs most certainly won’t enjoy being frightened. There are some aspects of these festivities that can also be dangerous for pets too so follow our guide to keep your dog safe and happy.

Big bangs

Unfamiliar noises can be very frightening for dogs, especially if they were not exposed to them when they were young during their vital ‘window of socialisation’. It is possible to overcome noise phobias in dogs using sound effect CDs that can be increased in volume slowly over time and combined with lots of positive reinforcement. This can be a very time-consuming process and is best done under the guidance of a qualified pet behaviour counsellor.

In the short term, you can help your dog cope with the fright of fireworks in a number of ways. In the run-up to firework season, make your dog a cosy den where they can hide away if they become scared. You could use a dog crate with a blanket draped over it or place their usual bed in a dark quiet corner of the home.

Close the curtains before the flashes and bangs start and put on some calming music or the radio to drown out the sounds from outside. Classical music has been shown to help calm dogs and the radio station Classic FM usually runs a special programme on Bonfire Night for pets.

Pheromone sprays and plug-ins can help anxious dogs to relax. They are synthetic versions of natural smells that nursing dogs give off to calm their puppies. There are also natural alternatives to pheromone sprays and adapters available. You could plug a diffuser in near to your dog’s den or spray their bedding with it.

Natural remedies are available which can be added to a pet's food or water to help keep them calm. A calming collar or room spray can also help to provide some on-the-go assistance in relieving stressful situations.

Lots of dog owners have had positive experiences using Thundershirts on their anxious dogs, especially at times of storms or during fireworks. They come in a variety of sizes and ensure a consistent but comfortable level of pressure on a dog’s body to help them feel more secure. The principle is the same as swaddling a baby and it is recommended by vets.

Costume drama

Most dogs are likely to end up feeling stressed or uncomfortable if you dress them up, even in costumes especially designed for pets. When considering clothing for your dog, the RSPCA has the following advice:

  • Make sure your dog can still behave normally when wearing the clothing (for example go to the toilet, see properly and be able to run around).
  • Make sure the clothing does not have any dangling bits that could pose a choking risk to your pet.
  • Introduce any items of clothing gradually to your dog and only for short periods of time to make sure your pet is happy.
  • Make sure your dog isn’t going to overheat and check their level of comfort regularly.
  • Familiarise yourself with the signs of stress so you can ensure your dog is happy. An unhappy or worried dog will likely have a low body posture, tail tucked between the legs, avoiding eye contact and could be excessively yawning or lip licking.
  • Always supervise your dog while they are in clothing.

If you want your pet to look the part but are seeking an alternative to costumes, you could opt for a collar, lead or harness with a spooky design – such as cobwebs or pumpkins. This way your dog can join in with the theme without being put in an uncomfortable position.

Trick or treat

Human treats can be toxic to dogs so should be kept well away from pets. Chocolate contains a toxin called theobromine which dogs can’t metabolise. Eating chocolate can cause severe illness and even death. You also need to watch out for sweets that might contain the artificial sweetener xylitol. Even in small amounts xylitol can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure and can prove fatal.

If you want to give your dog something different as a treat for Halloween, try pumpkin. Pumpkin is an excellent source of fibre, vitamin A, iron, carotene and supports healthy digestion as well as promoting eye health. Try adding a couple of spoons of cooked pumpkin to your dog’s dinner to see if they like it.

Unwelcome visitors

If you have a dog with strong guarding instincts, continuous door-knocking could be a nightmare scenario. If your dog goes mad when you have a delivery it’s likely they’ll find themselves poised all night for front door action. A nervous or anxious dog is also likely to find lots of strange visitors to the house unsettling – especially if they are all dressed up in weird and wonderful outfits!

If you open your front door to trick or treaters, make sure that your dog is shut in another room so they can’t get spooked or cause an accident if they think the visitors mean harm. If you want to avoid any door knocking altogether, consider sticking a sign to your front door asking people not to knock. You could leave a tub of sweets on the doorstep for children to help themselves if you still want to join in.

Decoration danger

If you carve pumpkins into lanterns and want to illuminate them, consider using battery-operated tea lights rather than candles. Naked flames pose a fire hazard if a curious dog takes an interest in them or accidentally knocks them over with an enthusiastic tail. If your dog is a chewer, don’t leave decorations dangling where your pet can reach them.

Night-time walkies

On Halloween night it would be wise, if possible, to take your dog out before it gets dark so that you are less likely to encounter trick or treaters in the neighbourhood. By taking your dog out earlier and tiring them out, they will be more relaxed and happier in the evening. It is also a good idea to walk your dog before it gets dark during firework season so that they are less likely to be spooked by an unexpected bang.

If you are going out in the evening and leaving your dog home alone, consider putting the radio or music on to drown out any noises from outside and leave a note on your door asking people not to knock. Leave your dog with something to keep them busy while you are not there, such as a stuffed Kong toy or lick mat.

Have fun this Halloween and Bonfire Night but don’t let the next few weeks be full of frights for your pets!

All Dog Things