Sharon Lack of Baltimore sent me an adorable picture of her 6-year-old black cat Mia lounging in a mid-waist Halloween pumpkin costume. "Mia doesn't mind wearing costumes," Sharon says. "She loves meeting the kids that come to the front door and knows not to go outside."
There are many mellow cats who go with the flow and don't mind a little dress up, but I am impressed with Mia's door-greeting skills, especially since it comes with shouts from trick-or-treaters.
For every mellow cat though, there are a hundred of felines who would say "no thank you" to the Halloween celebration. Yet last year, Americans spent $440 million on dog and cat costumes, according to the National Retail Federation.
If you celebrate Halloween with your pet, here are few tips for keeping it safe and happy.
1. Don't put masks on your pet's face or drape fabric over its head — like for a ghost costume. Animals get scared when they can't see clearly what's around them.
2. Make sure the costume doesn't cover their private parts. They need to be able to relieve themselves without you having to pull off their costume. And they can't tell you when they need to go.
3. Don't take dogs or cats (honestly, why would you take cats) trick-or-treating unless they're super mellow and won't freak out over strangers in costumes.
4. As for candy, keep it away from pets. The two main confectionary concerns are chocolate and candy with xylitol. Chocolate has a stimulant in it called theobromine that can make a dog's heart race. Depending on the quantity and the type of chocolate, a dog can get very ill or even die from eating it. Dark chocolate has more theobromine than milk chocolate, but both chocolates are bad for your pet. Xylitol is found in mints and gum and can cause a life-threatening drop in your dog's blood sugar.
5. Finally, if you have a pet who could bolt out of an open door, keep them in a bedroom or kennel until the holiday is over. Or, sit outside and hand out treats, so that trick-or-treaters aren't knocking at your door.
Q We have a 10-year-old pit bull dog who is an excessive barker. People do not come to our house because the dog never stops barking, making them and us uncomfortable. With my wife, she's fine, but if I'm in another room and comes to where she is, she barks her head off. We tried giving her commands, but it takes a while before she obeys. Are there any devices that can aid in training her? She's been this way all her life, but it now seems to have gotten worst.
— Emmoe, via email
A I like that you are trying to use commands. Even though it may take a while before she obeys, I like that she is making some progress. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to interrupt the behavior. There are ultrasonic devices that you can use in the house. (Do not use one intended for outside in the house.) These emit a high-pitched sound every time the dog barks (you can't hear it), which interrupts the behavior. The dog eventually learns to stop barking because they don't like the sound. That is called negative reinforcement and I would only recommend it in the most extreme cases.
I prefer you try positive reinforcement first. Purchase a Pet Corrector, available online or at the pet store. It's a training tool used to interrupt unwanted behaviors, like barking or fence hitting. It's compressed air, so makes a "shhhh" sound, which seems to get a dog's attention and halts barking long enough for you to give a command. As soon as your dog stops barking, call her to you, tell her she is a good girl, and give her a treat. Then, give her something to do. Get a puzzle toy where she has to use her paw or nose to get the treat to pop out. The phrase "can't do two things at once," applies to dogs too. Puzzle toys can keep vocal dogs busy.
Pet tip: If you have a pet bird, don't hang his cage in the kitchen, especially when cooking. When Teflon pans overheat, they can release fumes that are dangerous and deadly to birds. But that doesn't mean your bird is safe in the rest of the house either. Fumes travel, so if you have a bird, consider getting rid of your Teflon pans, so you aren't exposing them to dangerous fumes.