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Don't spook your pets this Halloween

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Halloween is a spooky time for pets.

Next to the skyrockets and firecrackers of the Fourth of July, Halloween is one of the most frightening times of the year for animals. All those things we want our pets to protect us from come true Oct. 31.

There are strange sounds in the streets as groups of goblins and ghosts float from house to house, their flashlights flashing mysterious sparks in the treetops and monstrous shadowy shapes against the houses.

And all the scary things that go bump in the night (and giggle and growl and scream) . . . are coming right up . . . to your own front door.

Is it any wonder that dogs may spend the evening barking hysterically, and cats can still be found hiding in your closet, in a state of shock, two days later?

And just wait until your own child slips into a giant cat costume and hides behind the couch, waiting for your gentle old family dog to walk by so he can leap out and scare it.

Keep in mind that dogs (and most animals) are visually oriented. Even though the monster smells like the family kid, and sounds like the family kid, if it LOOKS like a monster . . . the monster usually gets bitten.

So don't blame your dog for doing what comes naturally because you thought it was going to be funny.

Just in case you haven't thought about it, here are a few suggestions to help you keep things under control while the kids are out trick-or-treating Monday night:

Keep your family dog out of the living room while the little monsters are banging on your door for candy. Innocent goblins are bitten every year when protective dogs lunge between their owners' legs. (When your dog sees all those costumed youngsters at the door, it thinks you are being threatened and often will stop at nothing to try and protect you.)

If it's possible, lock backyard dogs in the garage until the witching hour has passed. Frightened animals frequently crash through fences or scramble over the top and run for miles until they get lost. (Be sure and have identification, phone numbers and the magical words "REWARD IF FOUND" attached to all dog and cat collars, just in case.)

Shut cats and inside-dogs in a quiet back bedroom with a radio or TV left on to help muffle all the sounds of the witches' cauldron from the front room. Leave an old shirt or another piece of clothing that smells like you for them to lie on, to help keep them calm.

Put the bird's cage in a darkened room, or cover it with a towel so it can't see or be frightened by the giant chicken clucking at your front door.

Candy and other treats your own youngsters bring home are a potential source of trouble for domestic animals.

Chocolate is particularly dangerous for dogs and cats. It contains a toxic substance that can cause vomiting, nervousness, heart problems and even death. If your pet shows any of these symptoms, or has eaten anything that is causing discomfort, call your veterinarian immediately.

Candy wrappers, which often are gobbled up along with the candy, can also block up a dog's or cat's (or parrot's!) digestive system.

If you're smart, you'll save yourself and your pets a lot of trouble by locking up all the candy before you drag your weary skeleton off to bed when it's all over.

Halloween treats for your pets

Dear Gary: Our male Lab, Chowder, has asked us to bake some homemade Halloween dog "cookies" for trick-or-treaters. We want to give out little bags of these dog biscuits to the ghosts and goblins when they come knocking on our door on Oct. 31. Do you have such a recipe?

_ JAN P.

Dear Jan: For the last 20 years I've been publishing a homemade dog biscuit recipe (Gary's Favorite Dog Munchies) that has been modified and used for just about everything from cocktail party hors d'oeuvres to Xmas cookies.

Humans who have eaten them tell me they've noticed no ill effects afterwards, except for a tendency to growl and bark when under stress.

Dogs of course think they're wonderful. And our ravenous Abyssinian cat, Tut, steals from our own Lady Dog's supply every chance he gets.

I think they'd be just perfect for Halloween trick-or-treats:

GARY'S FAVORITE HALLOWEEN DOG MUNCHIES

INGREDIENTS: about 2{ cups all-purpose flour; 2 cups whole-wheat flour; 2 cups cracked wheat; { cup nonfat dry milk; 4 teaspoons salt; 1 package dry yeast; 1 pint chicken stock or other liquid; 1 tablespoon milk to brush; 1 egg.

Warm the chicken stock in a pan. In the meantime, dissolve the yeast in a quarter-cup of warm water, which, together with the chicken stock, you pour into the dry ingredients. Knead this for about three minutes.

I would think you could add a little food coloring to make them look more Halloween-like, but you're on your own here and better experiment first.

A couple drops each of red and yellow should give you a very nice orange. (Our food editor says she doesn't know about using green, it might look a little bilious. Then again, maybe that's what you want in a Halloween treat.)

Go easy on the amount of coloring, or you'll really freak pet owners out when they go to pick up after their dogs on the back lawns! (It tends to make the lawns look, uh, quite festive.)

Roll the dough into a quarter-inch sheet, then cut with cookie cutters or a knife into pumpkins, ghosts, witches hats, black cats, full moons (the one up in the sky) and goblins.

You can then brush a wash of egg and milk onto the pieces as you are placing them on a baking sheet.

There's no need to let them rise beforehand. Place in a 300-degree oven for 45 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave them sitting in the oven overnight. In the morning they'll be bone-hard and absolutely guaranteed to clean your dog's teeth when properly applied.

This treat is very versatile and can be tailored nutritionally any way you or your pet like. A bit of honey or molasses will sweeten them slightly. If your dog is on a salt-free diet, leave the salt out.

Gary Bogue has written his column on pets, wildlife and the environment in the San Francisco Bay Area for the Contra Costa Times since 1970.