PETCO
This 'Gettin' Buggy' costume, available from Petco, is one of many outfits for pets that are flying off store shelves.
By
msnbc.com
updated 11/17/2004 11:58:17 AM ET 2004-11-17T16:58:17

When 4-year-old Cricket the Pomeranian dons her devil costume, she becomes a different dog. A furry little pooch that looks like a fox, Cricket doesn’t seem to mind the stuffed cotton horns on her head or the red cape tied around her neck. Instead, she picks up her feet and prances around with even more enthusiasm than usual.

Originally rescued from a puppy mill north of Seattle where she was kept as a breeder churning out litter after litter, Cricket now enjoys a cushy life. And partaking in holiday festivities is part of it. Each year at Halloween she steps out in style at costume parties and greets trick-or-treaters at the front door.

While not all pets appreciate being dressed up for Halloween, some, like Cricket, do — or at least they don’t mind — and bask in the extra attention showered on them. Their owners clearly like it, too. So much so that the pet product industry is racing to keep Halloween-related items on store shelves this season.

“We’re already seeing that (retailers) are having trouble keeping up with the demand,” says Bob Vetere of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

From miniature Power Ranger costumes to catnip vampires, there are a myriad of ways for pets to get in on the action this Halloween. But even though many owners are going to great lengths to include their furry friends in the festivities, there are few caveats to keep in mind.

Fun for whom?
While it may be entertaining to us homo sapiens to dress Fido up as our favorite Superhero, it can also pose some potential problems. It goes without saying that many animals don’t really see the fun in costumes.

“Some seem to enjoy getting dressed up in costumes, but others don’t,” says Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States. “If they don’t really like it, let the dog be a dog for Halloween and just dress yourself up.”

As a rule, it’s not a good idea to use costumes that include masks, which can block vision and cause even the most mild-mannered animal to get testy. Costumes with sequins, rubber bands, or small pieces that can be chewed and swallowed, are also best avoided.

And, don’t forget, at some point your pet will need to go to the bathroom. No matter how much time and money you spent on the outfit, he or she probably won’t be too concerned about soiling it.

Tobz Corp.
The light-up Polybrite leash and collar, available from Tobz-style.com, can help other trick-or-treaters spot your dog.

Even if Fido isn’t the kind to get all gussied up, he might still be persuaded to wear a Halloween bandana or ribbon, available at many pet stores.

But think twice about taking your dog out trick-or-treating with the kids. The armies of goblins circling the neighborhood could prove overwhelming.

“Even the friendliest dogs can have problems. If the dog is used to looking at human beings and all of a sudden it sees all these weird creatures, it might get a little freaked out," says Shain.

In addition, plenty of children don't like dogs and having a barking animal around could make an already spooky evening a little too scary. In order to minimize the fright factor, try using a collar and leash that light up, such as those made by PolyBrite, which let other trick-or-treaters easily spot your animal and avoid it if they so choose.

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If your dog gets easily spooked by strange people coming to the house, especially strange people dressed in costumes, sequester your pet in a quiet room with its favorite toys and possibly a TV or radio to help drown out the noise. Always have an ID collar on your animal and make sure they don't slip out the door when trick-or-treaters arrive.

When it comes to cats, none should ever be allowed outside on Oct. 31. Too many run away after becoming frightened, or fall victim to malicious pranksters, says Shain.

Death by chocolate is no joke
No matter what you do this Halloween, be sure to keep your dog out of the stash of candy for trick-or-treaters and warn children not to share their loot with Rover. Chocolate in particular can be lethal to dogs. Each year, veterinarians across the country see a spate of accidental chocolate poisonings and deaths.

While you don’t need to rush your dog to the vet’s office if it eats a single M&M, it doesn’t take that much chocolate to be deadly, says Dr. Richard Goldstein, assistant professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “If a dog eats a whole bar of chocolate, it can cause serious toxicity.”

Cats are also sensitive to chocolate though not as much as dogs. The deadly culprit is a compound called theobromine, which is very difficult for dogs to metabolize and excrete from their bodies. Baker’s chocolate and other forms of dark chocolate contain much higher amounts of the chemical. An ounce of milk chocolate contains 45 milligrams of theobromine, while an ounce of baker’s chocolate contains 400 milligrams, says Goldstein.

“A toxic amount (of theobromine) is about 500 milligrams per pound of dog. So that means that for a 10-pound dog, you would need about 10 ounces of milk chocolate, but only one ounce of baker’s chocolate to cause death,” he says.

Raisins and black licorice are also toxic to dogs and can cause serious kidney problems. If you decide to give out boxes of raisins as a healthier alternative to candy this year, keep in mind that not only will your neighborhood kids like you less, but so might your dog.

Treats perfect for gobblin'
In general, it’s best to keep all treats made for humans out of the reach of pets. Even seemingly harmless wrappers and string from bags of homemade treats can be scarfed down and cause an intestinal blockage, requiring emergency surgery in some cases, says Goldstein.

Three Dog Bakery
Pupkin cakes, made by Three Dog Bakery, offer a tasty treat for pampered pooches.

If you want to include your pet in the fun, a better solution would be to buy or make Halloween treats specifically for pets. Consider Halloween catnip toys for Fluffy or large beef bones for Fido.

For owners who want to go all out, there are a range of specialty stores offering gourmet Halloween treats for pampered pets. Three Dog Bakery, a chain of 32 stores across the country, specializes in biscuits, cakes and other foods for dogs made from human-grade quality ingredients.

"Everything we make, we eat it ourselves," says Dan Dye, co-founder of Three Dog Bakery. "We're probably the only company in history to do reverse animal testing — the humans try everything first before the animals get it."

This Halloween, Three Dog Bakery is offering pumpkin-shaped cakes, called Pupkins, made from whole grains, applesauce and honey, among other things. The frosting is a proprietary recipe, but Dye says it includes non-fat yogurt powder sweetened with oils. Carob is used to make the face on the pupkins.

"They are extremely healthy. And dogs love them," he says.

Try some common sense
The sad truth is that while Halloween is a fun time for most kids and adults, it can be very traumatic for some pets. Each year many frightened animals become lost or injured, while others get sick and, in some cases, die from eating candy or chewing on costumes and decorations.

But, as with most things, a little prevention and common sense goes a long way.

“What you have to do is always remember that (pets) are like a 1- or 2-year-old kid," says Vetere. "Don’t do something to your pet that you wouldn’t do to your little kid.”

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