Halloween is probably my favorite time of year. It's a magical time when people let their creativity shine! And we're not the only ones dressing up — our dogs and cats are now being transformed into Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Chewbacca, Mr. Rogers, and other superheroes.
This episode, Dr. J and I discuss what makes a good Halloween costume for pets, fun ideas for celebrating with them, and of course, how to keep things safe for everyone. If you've got a photo of your animals dressed up, please share them with us, we'd love to see them!
- Tips for training your pets to get used to their Halloween costume
- What to know before dyeing your pet's fur
- Learn how to create a personalized Halloween pumpkin stencil
- Some of our favorite dog and cat costumes
- Common Halloween hazards for our pets
Mia: Welcome back to another spooky episode of Paws and Play with Dr. J.
Dr. J: You almost sound like Vincent Price, almost.
Mia: I'd settle for Elvira Mistress of the Dark. That would be cool. I love her. Shout out to Elvira.
As you may have guessed, this is our special Halloween episode. And I am your cohost, Mia — I don't even think I said that yet. And I've got Dr. J — unless, Dr. J are you in costume right now? Who do we have with us?
Dr. J: I am Dr. J the basketball player. Except for my skills on the court are not nearly equal to his and being from Philly, I know that firsthand. So it's only a costume because we're on radio.
Mia: That's awesome. So Halloween, I don't know how you feel about it, but it is basically my New Year's, it is like that, and I guess Christmas, are my most wonderful times of year. I like people getting creative and you know, that includes pets.
But of course, just like witches, there are good witches and bad witches, and good costumes and bad costumes. So what, I guess, would you consider a good costume for a pet? Is there a recipe for animal-friendly costumes that we should be looking for?
Dr. J: Yeah, I mean I think the first thing for a "good costume" for a pet — and it will be different for every pet — is one that they're comfortable in and have been acclimated to and is not likely to cause problems for them.
So generally speaking, getting them used to it slowly is the first — first and foremost, most important bit of information there. And don't ever push it on them just to get a cute picture or something like that.
Oops! Learned a little too late for this tip. Sorry Marshall!
But as far as what to look for at the store or online when you're shopping for a costume, or trying to conceive a costume of things you have around the house for your pet, ideally it's nothing that makes it, you know, that obstructs or interferes with their ability to breathe or see. So nothing that's going to be too tight. Nothing that goes over their mouth.
Nothing that really is potentially gonna constrict around their neck and their windpipe or their trachea. Nothing that's going to block their sightlines, so nothing that's going to obstruct their ability to see. And then ideally nothing that's got too much in the way of what I'd call little dangly bits, so little, bells, balls, you know, pieces of fabric, stuff that they might either trip on or bite off and then ingest it and you wind up in the ER and you need to have that fished out either with endoscopy or surgery. So those would be definitely things to avoid when looking for costumes.
Mia: What about like, you know, you mentioned dangly stuff, like it's kind of dangly, but what about wigs?
Dr. J: You know, I guess it depends. I mean, how well it fits. Is it going to be getting down in their eyes? Is it going to be heavy on their head and therefore they're going to be spending a lot of time trying to get it off their head? I would say probably that would be a pet to pet decision for people.
Snooki and Marilyn wigs looking pretty good!
I wouldn't go out and spend a ton of money on a wig for your pet, unless you know that they've got a good return policy, just in case your pet's not a fan. Besides bald is beautiful.
Mia: It sure is Dr J. I'm actually one of those pet parents that kind of only puts on the costume for pictures and Marshall hates wearing anything. He just likes to be naked. One thing that I got for him last year, it was like a gnome costume, or he looked kinda like just a regular bearded hipster in the Pacific Northwest with a flannel and everything, but it had like one of those elastic strappy things for under their chins. Kind of like a party hat.
Marshall looks miserable. I took it off immediately after and I'm lucky he still loves me.
And like that's something that I actually felt the worst about. Is that something that we should be, you know...I guess it all matters about the fit. Right? But to me that seems like maybe one of the more dangerous things, possibly.
Dr. J: Well and with a lot of these things, you know, you don't want to put a costume on and then leave it on your pet for too long. And certainly not leave them unobserved with it on. Now if you, let's say that for Marshall, you were to put that on and he was tolerating it. Okay. Just leave it on for a moment or two and give him treats so he forms positive associations with it and then take it off.
And then keep repeating that until he's super comfortable with it. Then yeah, you can leave it on for a little bit longer even for going around maybe doing trick or treating with him or something like that. But, you always want to make sure that they're comfortable, that it's not gonna fall down and get in their eyes and cause a problem for them.
Mia: Something that I've seen, and it's not even around Halloween necessarily, when I lived in Brooklyn, there's a lady that went to the same vet as me, and she's actually known all around New York as the Green Lady of Brooklyn because she only wears green. Her, everything is green. She's older, than I am and I'm pretty sure she dyed — I have memories of her dyeing her dog's fur green. Apparently that's up for debate on a blog when I was looking for her. But then I just saw this morning, a video of the Pink Lady of Hollywood who definitely dyes her dog pink. And I'm just wondering how safe is that?
Dr. J: It depends on the product that people are using and there's lots out there. We've got an article on our site about dyeing for people to look at. It really depends on what people are using. I mean any dog, any cat, just like any person, can have an adverse or allergic reaction to anything. So you want to test it on them.
If you're going to try a product, A) first make sure it's safe, especially if they lick it off or ingest it, because that can cause a problem obviously. But then even if it says it's safe on their skin, test it in a small area first so that you know whether or not they tolerate it, because the last thing you want to do is dye their whole body or whatever, and then realize that they're going to actually have an allergic reaction, because that can be highly problematic.
So, but you always want to avoid the area around their eyes, their nose, their ears, their mouth, stuff like that. You know, another thing is, I know when I was doing the research for the article on the dyeing, I know some people will recommend food coloring and like dyes, pigments from foods and such. I think there was even something about using like Kool-Aid powder or something.
Mia: I mean that's what we did when we were kids.
Dr. J: Yeah. I would caution people because you know those things, they're foods. So it might make another dog more inclined to try and lick and/or bite your pet. And certainly, I mean, we're getting to the point where we probably don't have to worry too much about bees and I guess that's the convenience of Halloween not being in the summer. But you know, if there are still bees and wasps around, if your dog is covered in Kool-Aid, who knows, maybe that makes them more likely to sustain a bee or wasp sting. So just lots of things for people to consider. If you've got questions, talk to your vet or a good groomer to know what might be best.
Mia: Yeah. And I guess there's, besides food coloring and hair dye, and I don't know if there's like pet specific hair dye. There might be at this point. But there's also like a body paint, right? That some people use probably on more of the short haired dogs I imagine.
Dr. J: There's, like face paint and stuff like that. Even for people, you know, again, the same rules apply and make sure that they're not able to lick it off, and test it on a small spot first to make sure that they'll tolerate it. But you know, again, even then, a lot of dogs and cats won't necessarily stand still for a lot of things. And so taking the time to dye or paint their coat may be one of those things that they're not going to be too keen on.
Mazel let us have this on him for approximately 5 seconds. We will not be trying to add color to his fur any time soon.
Mia: I like to think of the fun things to do with our pets on Halloween and last year was the first year that I, successfully, I will say, printed out a stencil that I made of Marshall to put on my pumpkin and carved a Marshall Pumpkin.
Mazel wondering where the heck his pumpkin is
And it was great and I am not particularly artistically inclined, but I was able to do it. So I highly recommend doing something like that and we'll link to a resource for showing you how to do that in the blog post.
But I was thinking like while you're carving the pumpkin, our animals can eat the pumpkin too, right?
Dr. J: The innards.
Mia: Right. So maybe that's another thing to do. Make the seeds for yourself because those are delicious. And then kind of using the pumpkin to make a little treat for our pets.
Dr. J: Yeah. And there are recipes out there.
Mia: Yeah. Are there any particular pumpkin treats that Wendy likes?
Dr. J: I'm too lazy. I'm sure there would be. Cobbler's kids and their shoes and all.
Mia: Yeah. Well, she can come to my house, she can come trick or treating. I mean, this is a great time for people, even if you can't get your pet into a costume, there's usually something around for dogs and their Halloween costumes and that's always really fun to see. And I'm just, you get so many really creative ideas. Have you seen any really great creative costumes in the past few years?
Dr. J: Yeah, I mean there's I think with the, I guess it's not even recent spate of, but you know, existing spate of, superhero and movies and stuff. You see a lot of dogs dressed up as Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, stuff like that, which I think is always fun.
I like it when — I'm a huge fan of puns — that pugkin spice latte, one that I see pictures of every year, have a pug dressed up in a Starbucks cup.
I think is fantastic. Um, you had shared that poop factory with me before, which is, which is pretty awesome.
Um, I think, you know, it's just fun for people to get creative.
Mia: Yeah, I've got it, I'll post it in the blog again. But my friend that has a tripod dog, last year made a costume for her that, it looked like stuffing coming out of where (her arm would be) — it was awesome.
It looked so good. I just thought that that was so creative. Marshall hates wearing anything but the one thing that he actually, for whatever reason, is okay wearing is a hot dog costume. I don't know if it's because it fits him snugly.
Dr. J: Maybe it's because he wants to be a Dachshund.
Mia: I don't know if it's that, he probably would prefer to eat a hot dog more.
Dr. J: I guess there's that side too. Hey, maybe, do you think we could get a shout out for maybe people to share their pet costumes?
Mia: Please! Oh, that would be so great. Yes. Please send them in.
Dr. J: Especially if they involve a pun. That'll be fantastic.
Mia: Yeah. I love seeing all of them. Send, even if they're not in a costume, send us a picture of your animals anyway.
Dr. J: Yeah, because dogs and cats are just funny looking anyway. Like, they're adorable even without costumes.
Mia: Anything to brighten our days. You can send all those to connect (at) preventivetvet.com. Um, and you know, while you're there, if you've got a question for Dr. J, include that as well. Do we have any tips for bringing dogs, or I guess cats too, with you while you're trick or treating?
Dr. J: Yes. So for cats, don't do it. I don't think that's a good idea, to bring your cat trick or treating. Unless they're in one of those little enclosed backpacks that has the little clear bubble.
Mia: I was literally just thinking that.
Dr. J: And then they could be like an astronaut like the Apollo rocket, which would be cool.
Mia: That's a great idea!
Dr. J: And in that case, definitely do it and send us a picture. Unless they're stressed by it.
For dogs, again, all those precautions about the costume. Makes sure that there's something on them that's self illuminating or LED, just to increase their visibility. Make sure that you yourself bring a flashlight or something like that.
Don't forget the poo bags. Definitely don't have them on a retractable leash, have them under good leash control, but also be aware that if they're meeting other dogs, dogs are quite visual and also the way they are dependent on their sense of smell.
So if they're meeting other dogs and they are dressed in a costume, that might freak out the other dog. And so maybe you're increasing the risk of dog fights and such like that. Plus your dog is going to be seeing a lot of other, mostly kids, but also some of us adults still dress up.
I won't name names but...me.
Mia: I do too.
Dr. J: Yeah. But, you know, they're gonna be seeing a lot of people like different costumes and that may be scary or anxiety-inducing for them. So it might not be as fun for them as you're thinking, and so it might be better to not bring them along or maybe bring them along for a short period of time. So those would be some of the most important things.
Mia: One thing that I was just thinking of, you mentioned the LED stuff, like collars or something to illuminate them while walking. And I had originally thought like, oh, well maybe this would be a good time to have glow sticks around. But then when I was doing a little more research, it was pointed out to me that glow sticks are actually more of a hazard than a help in this case.
Dr. J: Yeah. I mean, there's a chance of them eating them, and this is especially for cats because they've got such sharp, pointy, teeth and love to nibble on things. But for both cats and dogs, the stuff inside glow sticks can actually be toxic.
Typically it needs to be, you know, a pretty decent volume of the stuff that they're ingesting. Now, obviously that's going to be different for a very large dog like a Saint Bernard or a Great Dane or even a Lab, as opposed to say a Yorkie or a you know, pick your breed. But still, even in small quantities, they can be irritating to their eyes and even their skin. So glow sticks are a plus or minus, depending on whether or not your pet is likely to nibble on them.
Dr. J: So I would say probably the biggest, obviously, it's holiday of candy, right? So, which tends to be more of a problem for dogs than cats because dogs like to eat whatever they can. A lot of dogs like to eat whatever they can get their, their muzzle on. So within there, Xylitol is becoming increasingly common, and the biggest problem is sugar free gums and mints, which some people will try and do the right thing for kids by giving them, say a xylitol-containing sugar free gum that's going to help their teeth after they eat all the sugar containing candy.
But then that means that they've got xylitol in their little trick or treat pails or pillowcases or whatever they're using. So you don't want that stuff getting inside your dog because it'll cause very serious problems very quickly, and even in very small amounts.
Chocolate, obviously is a big one. There are some chocolates out there that contain raisins and some people will give out little boxes of raisins.
Mia: Yeah. Which by the way, don't do that. Nobody wants the raisins for Halloween, okay?
Dr. J: It's not good for dogs and the kids are going to be pi- they're going to egg your house next year.
Mia: Just forget the raisins.
Dr. J: Don't do it. Then obviously the traffic and getting startled, things of that nature. But even if you're staying home and not taking your pets out and you're answering the door, so doors that are opening and closing are a hazard for your pets, either because they might try and bolt out and escape, or they might try and bolt out and you might not be paying attention when you're closing the door and your dog may have their head sticking out the door, or your cat, their tail or something like that.
So those types of injuries. Also them getting startled by kids coming to the door, and potentially biting or just the anxiety of hearing the doorbell going, or the knocking. So oftentimes I recommend if you're going to have your pets at home, get them set up in their sort of safe space room, that's away from all the commotion. Leave the TV on or leave the radio on. Give them some good white noise. Give them some good things to occupy their time. Some good interactive toys, and interactive treat dispensers, things of that nature.
Some pets actually need either calming supplements or calming medications, anti-anxiety medications that you would need to talk to your vet about earlier if you're gonna entertain people at the house as far as coming to the door to trick or treat.
Mia: Yeah. No, that's, that's great. I, of course, my first thought goes to the chocolate. But yeah, the door darting is a huge thing. It's also just something that I worry about regularly when I walk in the door and I'm like, where's Mazel?
Dr. J: And then you also have, let's not forget the decorations, like those fake cobwebs and stuff. Those are potentially foreign body hazards, candles, if you've got your Jack-o-lantern, ideally use little electric candles as opposed to actual candles to avoid problems and fires and burns and stuff like that. So there are plenty of things for people to be aware of — not to scare anybody unnecessarily on Halloween with their pets. Ha - I went there. But just to raise awareness and just so people can have a fighting chance of avoiding the need for an ER trip because that'll ruin it.
Mia: Absolutely. That'll ruin anything. So if, let's say that you are gonna, stay in on Halloween and, you know, cuddle on the couch with your furry familiar, do you have any favorite, Halloween movies that we can we can watch, preferably with a strong feline or canine lead?
Dr. J: Oh, that's a good question. I'm trying to think. I mean, I'm usually out trick or treating so I don't know. I mean obviously there's. Well I've got kids, so there's Charlie Brown's Great pumpkin. And that's got Snoopy! There, that's a dog.
Um, let's see. Uh, I mean Nightmare Before. Is it a Nightmare Before Christmas? That's at Christmas one. Um, I don't know.
Mia: No, I still think anything Tim Burton can definitely go into Halloween territory.
Yeah. I don't watch horror movies, so like I'll never watch Pet Cemetery or Cujo, but that's probably, I don't know if you'd want to watch that with your animal.
Dr. J: Yeah, but I mean Pet Cemetery is a good movie. It's troubling, but it's a good movie and there's the guy, there's. Oh wait. There's Herman Munster from the Munsters, the guy that played Herman Munster is in Pet Cemetery. So that's even perhaps more of a Halloween movie.
Mia: Yeah. Good. Thank you. I've been watching watching, if you're looking for a family friendly, very cute show to watch. Um, and I guess the lead is not necessarily, I'm a cat, but it's called The Worst Witch, and cats are heavily featured and it's on Netflix and it's so good.
Dr. J: And then there's also there's, what, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and I think she actually has, her little friend is a little black cat.
Mia: Yeah, there's actually going to be a new spinoff coming.
Dr. J: Oh Sabrina the Middle-Aged Witch? And now she's got like 40 different black cats. That would be great. Which, oh my God, it's brilliant.
Mia: I'd watch it. But then of course there's Hocus Pocus. Gosh, I'm just itching to get into a costume, which is funny because I've had the same costume, Winnie the Pooh, for the last like 17 years. Literally. Hey, if it ain't broke.
If you have any, if for those of you listening, if you have any suggestions for us to watch, please again let us know either in the comments for our blog post or hit us up on email. Uh, and let's see, is there anything else that we have missed for making a fun, happy, healthy, safe halloween?
Dr. J: No, I think — oh, just be careful where you put the candy down when you get home and where do you store it. One, because you don't want your pets getting into it. Two, you don't want other people finding it and then depriving you of all your spoils of your work. Like my mom used to do to me when I was younger. Not that I hold any grudges, but my mom's a big Snickers addict so I still don't know what Snickers taste like, they were all taken from me.
Mia: Oh Sad. So basically you didn't have a childhood?
Dr. J: No, exactly. I also don't have diabetes yet, so that's good.
Mia: That's true. There you go. Well thank you so much Dr. J. I look forward to hearing more about your Halloween and how trick or treating goes and I look forward to figuring out what the heck I'm going to try to put Marshall and Mazel in for five seconds.
Dr. J: You're gonna have to post pictures, Mia.
Mia: Oh, you know, I will.