How to Keep Pets Safe on Halloween + Top Ten Pet Costumes

One of my favorite Halloween memories is when my friend Joy and I entered our dogs in a fundraising costume contest at our local animal shelter. Lucy, a Rottweiler mix, and Ricky, an English springer spaniel, were dressed as a bride and groom while surrounded by dogs dressed in a wide variety of costumes including a hot dog, a lion, a tiger, Superman, a witch and the devil. While not all dogs enjoy dressing up, these contestants really seemed to enjoy the festivities.

According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending this year will reach a record 9.1 billion. When asked about Halloween shopping plans, 16 percent of the 7,013 surveyed said they would be buying a costume for their pets. The respondents were also asked what costumes their pets would be wearing this season. Here are the top ten choices:

  1. Pumpkin
  2. Hotdog
  3. Dog, (cats dressed as dogs), Lion and Pirate
  4. Bumblebee
  5. Devil
  6. Batman Character
  7. Ghost
  8. Cat (dogs dressed as cats)
  9. Witch
  10. Star Wars character

dogdressedaslion

Image credit: Thinkstock

Before you rush out to buy a pet costume, please consider the temperament of your animal companion. While it’s fun for us to play dress up with our dogs and cats, they might not be in the party mood. Don’t wait until Halloween to put the costume on your pet. Try it on a few days beforehand and if your dog or cat seems distressed, just settle for a seasonal bandana or consider just using part of the costume like a hood or a wig.

If you do have a pet who is happy to wear a full costume, make sure that it fits comfortably. The costume shouldn’t limit the animal’s movement, sight or ability to breathe, bark or meow say experts at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Also check the costume carefully for small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that could present a choking hazard. Ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects and cause injury to your pet.

Families who enjoy making their pets’ costumes can find a variety of designs at Martha Stewart Living.

catdressedaslittleredriding

Image credit: Thinkstock

Keeping Pets Safe on Halloween

  • Don’t feed your pets Halloween candy, especially if it contains chocolate or xylitol (a common sugar substitute found in sugar-free candies and gum).
  • Make sure your pet is properly identified (microchip, collar and ID tag) in case he or she escapes through the open door while you’re distracted with trick-or-treaters.
  • Keep lit candles and jack-o-lanterns out of reach of pets.
  • Never leave a pet unsupervised while he or she is wearing a costume.
  • Keep glow sticks and glow jewelry away from your pets. Although the liquid in these products isn’t likely toxic, it tastes really bad and makes pets salivate excessively and act strangely.
  • Keep decorations—like streamers and fake spider webs—and wires and chords from lighted decorations out of reach of pets.
  • If your pet is wary of strangers or has a tendency to bite, put him or her in another room during trick-or-treating hours or provide him/her with a safe hiding place.
  • Keep your dogs and cats safely indoors on Halloween. Cats—black ones in particular—often fall victim to pranksters.
  • Don’t let the family dog accompany the kids on their trick-or-treat outing as dogs can get scared and break free.

Sources: The Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association

6 Common Myths About Shelter Animals (and the Truth About Them)

Adopting a dog doesn’t mean you’re inheriting someone else’s problem. Learn the truth and some common myths about shelter animals.

It’s a sad fact that each year approximately 670,000 dogs are euthanized in animal shelters across the United States. It happens because too many dogs enter the shelter and too few people consider adoption when it comes to getting a new pet. Many buy into one of the most common myths that when you adopt a dog from a shelter you are inheriting someone else’s problem.

The truth is that shelters and rescues are brimming with happy, healthy pets just waiting for someone to take them home. Most shelter pets are surrendered because of a human problem like a move or a divorce, not because the animals did anything wrong. Many are already housetrained and used to living with families.

“When you adopt a shelter dog you are most likely bringing home a dog who has good manners, is leash trained and knows some commands,” said Ellen Ribitzki, kennel manager for the Bloomingdale Regional Animal Shelter Society (B.A.S.S.) in New Jersey.  “In addition, shelter dogs are temperament tested so adopters will have an idea of a pet’s personality―whether he/she gets along with other dogs or with cats and young children.”

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Tips for House Hunting as a Pet Owner

This post first appeared on Care2.com

I will never forget how nervous I was the day Solas, my late German shepherd mix, and I headed out to meet the landlord of a studio apartment that I was hoping to rent. The apartment was at the back of the landlord’s home and he and his wife were hesitant to rent to a tenant with a dog. I convinced them to meet my dog before turning us down.

Solas had been bathed and was wearing a cute bandana when we walked up to the landlord’s door. I also brought along her Canine Good Citizen certificate and references from my veterinarian. She made a great impression and we got the apartment. In fact, Solas and the landlord’s granddaughter became great buddies.

Not all tenants with pets fare so well. In an American Humane survey of 93 shelters, “landlord won’t allow pets” was the fourth most common reason pets were surrendered to shelters. And according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), finding and keeping rental housing lead to the surrender of half a million pets to shelters each year. While the rental housing industry claims to be pet-friendly, HSUS representatives say that it is discriminating about the types of pets allowed. Often there are weight limits or breed restrictions when it comes to renting with dogs.

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How to Keep the Peace Among Household Cats

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Anytime we’ve applied to adopt a dog, we’ve been asked to bring our current dog to the shelter to make sure that the two would get along. This type of introduction isn’t practical when it comes to adding a new cat to a multi-cat household. Instead, shelter and rescue group staff ask lots of questions about the temperament of the cats already in the home to help make a good match.

Because cats can be territorial, it’s impossible to predict how groups of cats will get along once living in the same home. And while cats with aggression problems might never be friends, with time and commitment from owners, problems between cats can be resolved according to experts at the Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey (AWANJ). Depending on the severity of the problems, families may need to seek the assistance of a veterinarian and/or animal behaviorist to restore peace to the household.

Lynn Cancro, founder and president of Caring About the Strays (C.A.T.S.) rescue group in New Jersey, believes that how well cats get along in a multi-cat household very much depends on the manner in which they were introduced to one another.

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The Benefits of Adopting a Pair of Kittens

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Reed and Rowan, 6-month-old purring machines, are the longest residents at the Clifton Animal Shelter in New Jersey. The siblings were brought to the shelter with their mom and two brothers who have all gone to forever homes.

Photo courtesy of Clifton Animal Shelter  

“We call them the dream team. They sleep on top of one another, and they purr while sleeping, eating and playing,” said Liz Taranda, vice president of the shelter and cat room manager. “They are lap cats who love to be held together while giving nose rubs to whoever is holding them.”

The brothers are bonded and will only be adopted into the same home. It’s not unusual for shelters and rescue groups to encourage potential adopters to adopt a pair of kittens rather than going home with one cat.

The Itty Bitty Orphan Kitty Rescue in San Jose, CA, requires that young kittens be adopted in pairs unless adopters have an existing kitten or young cat at home. According to the shelter, this policy is not based on a desire to increase adoptions but rather to ensure that kittens are adopted into homes that offer the best possible environment for their social development.

There are many benefits to adopting kittens in pairs

Besides saving two lives, there are many advantages to adopting kittens in pairs. Kittens tend to need more time and attention than adult cats and two together will keep each other company. The acclimation to a new home will go smoother, too, because a bonded pair of kittens won’t need separate transitional rooms. All they require is one litter box and two dishes (also true when adopting an older bonded pair of cats).

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Do Our Pets Really Benefit from Supplements? Here’s What the Experts Have to Say

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Our late Rottweiler mix, Lucy, was diagnosed with chronic hip dysplasia when she was only 4 years old. After researching ways to help her I learned that joint supplements containing the ingredients chondroitin and glucosamine seem to help some dogs with joint issues. Following a discussion with my veterinarian, I started Lucy on two pills a day. I don’t know if they helped her, but she joined us on walks and hikes until we finally lost her at age 15.


Joint supplements containing the ingredients chondroitin and glucosamine seem to help Lucy who had chronic hip dysplasia. 

Now we think that our 10-year-old border collie mix, Jason, is showing signs of arthritis. Once the vet confirms this, we’ll ask if we should put him on the same supplements we used for Lucy? We’re not alone in considering the use of pet supplements. According to market researcher Packaged Facts, projected retail sales for pet supplements and nutraceutical treats in the U.S. are expected to grow through 2017, to an estimated $1.6 billion.

The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) describes pet supplements as products that are intended to complement the diet and help support and maintain a normal biological function. Products range from multivitamins for overall health to targeted formulas that claim to alleviate joint problems or canine cognitive dysfunction.

Do Our Pets Really Benefit From the Addition of Supplements in Their Diets?

The most commonly used pet supplements are multivitamins, joint supplements and fatty acids. Veterinary experts agree that glucosamine/chondroitin supplements if they are of good quality, may have modest benefits in some animals with arthritis. And fish oil supplements may be beneficial for pets with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease and cancer. However, even these common supplements have potential side effects and are not right for every dog and cat with these conditions. As for multivitamin supplements, veterinary experts say that pets do not need these unless they are on a nutritionally unbalanced diet.

“A healthy dog and cat on a well-regulated commercial pet food that has been carefully designed by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist will be getting all the vitamins and minerals they need,” said Laura Eirmann, a veterinary nutritionist at Oradell Animal Hospital. Complete and balanced pet foods are made to give pets the right amount of nutrients and adding more could be harmful to your pet Eirmann said. For example, giving too much calcium to a large breed puppy can lead to skeletal diseases.

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Finding New Homes for Shelter Cats Could be a Click Away

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Mindi, a shy FIV-positive cat, was constantly passed over by visitors to the Cat Depot in Sarasota, FL. So when the shelter was accepted into the Jackson Galaxy Foundation Cat Pawsitive clicker training program earlier this year, the staff immediately enrolled Mindi. She’d been living at the shelter for nine months and after just two months of clicker training was placed into a loving home.

“Potential adopters would watch volunteers clicker training with Mindi and were excited to see her doing high fives, said Claudia Harden, director of communications at the shelter. “It was seeing how well she interacted with staff and volunteers that ultimately got her adopted.”

MindigivinghighfiveMindi gives a high five during a clicker training session at Cat Depot. Her new family is continuing this training to provide Mindi with positive reinforcement.

The Jackson Galaxy Foundation created the Cat Pawsitive program in 2016 to help shelter cats overcome the stress associated with shelter environments. Shelters apply for enrollment into the three-month training program, which includes training webinars and consultations with feline behavior experts.

The Cat Depot has been using clicker training informally for four or five years but with the launch of the Cat Pawsitive program, clicker training became part of daily life at the shelter. With the focus on hard-to-adopt cats, training sessions are conducted twice a day, five days a week. Of the nine cats enrolled in the program during the formal training session, eight have found homes.

“There’s no doubt that the Cat Pawsitive training program has helped place our cats into homes,” Harden said. “It sparks a conversation with potential adopters when they walk into cat pods (rooms) and see our cats participating in clicker training sessions.”

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A Welcoming Smile and Supportive Environment can Save Pets Lives

This post first appeared on Care2.com.

In the more than 20 years that I’ve been writing about pet and animal welfare issues, I’ve heard from numerous people who were disappointed with their experience at local animal shelters. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also hears from potential adopters frustrated at being denied the opportunity to provide loving homes to animals in need. They complain about rude treatment by staff at their local shelters and frustration when calls and e-mails to shelters aren’t returned.

It’s true that shelter staff and volunteers see terrible abuse of animals and they are understandably concerned about placing these pets back into bad homes. However, leading animal welfare organizations say this concern can lead to being overprotective and going overboard when it comes to regulating, requiring and screening. This results in potential adopters turning to less humane options to find an animal companion. There’s a movement within the animal welfare community that’s finding a middle ground with the realization that “a home that’s good if not perfect will be better for pets than an animal shelter.”

The “Adopters Welcome” manual and webinar series produced by the HSUS were designed to help shelters maximize adoptions by embracing members of the community and encouraging them to adopt while helping them succeed as pet owners. In addition, the ASPCA’s “Smile! You’re Saving Lives” webinar focuses on providing a positive service to clients in the interest of building great relationships and saving more lives. A growing body of research is suggesting that “open adoptions” done with less intrusive methods of pet adopter matchmaking are just as effective as, and in some cases even more successful than, those requiring potential adopters to jump through a lot of hoops.

So, what does an open adoption policy look like?

Open adoptions provide shelters with the opportunity to educate rather than judge potential adopters. The focus is on building partnerships and lifelong relationships, following up on adoptions and being a resource for families who adopt. When the Dakin Humane Society, with shelters in Springfield and Leverett, MA, launched its Open Adoption policy more than six years ago, it created a “culture of understanding and respect” for the human customers, coworkers and volunteers who come to the shelter. At Dakin communication with potential adopters is congenial and collaborative rather than bureaucratic and rule-bound.

Dakin Humane Society adapted an Open Adoption policy more than six years ago. 

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It Takes a Community to Support Feral Cats: Here’s How You Can Help

This post first appeared on Care2.com.

Twenty-six years ago the definition of feral cats wasn’t part of the national consciousness in the United States. Today, hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the country are managing feral cat colonies using the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method of control. Among them is Donna Moussa who runs the TNR program for Save the Animals Rescue Team II (STARTII) in Bergen County, NJ. Moussa got involved with the program after following a mother cat and her kitten into a neighbor’s backyard where she discovered more than 40 ferals lounging around the pool and hanging out in flower pots.

“I thought I would trap these cats and have them spayed and neutered and that would take care of the problem,” Moussa said. “Little did I know there were thousands of feral cats living in communities all over the county.”

Twelve years later Moussa and her team have trapped more than 3,000 feral cats, transported them to the spay/neuter clinic, and cared for them during recovery before returning them to their colonies. Feral cat advocates nationwide hail this method as the most humane way of managing colonies. According to numerous scientific studies—many conducted while monitoring feral cat colonies on college campuses—TNR improves the lives of cats, improves the relationship between feral cats and the people who live near them and over time decreases the number of cats in a colony.

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Declawing Cats: Not Equal to Trimming Your Fingernails

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At a recent party, I was struck at how flippantly one of the guests spoke about declawing her cat. Her explanation was that the cat was scratching her furniture and since she could never part with her beloved companion, the only option left was to have her cat declawed. Then a few weeks later while waiting for a hair appointment, the topic came up again when the woman sitting next to me was telling her companion that she had adopted a cat and was going to have her declawed so that she wouldn’t destroy the furniture or scratch her children.

Stories like this make Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary Executive Director Becky Tegze cringe. In the Cat House at the no-kill animal sanctuary located in Middletown, NY, residents roam freely in rooms that simulate a home environment. There are scratching posts in every room and rarely do the feline residents scratch on the furniture. If they do, staff and volunteers immediately get to work redirecting them to the scratching posts.

Mr. Meowgi enjoys using the scratching post in the Cat House at Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in Middletown, NY

Experts at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) say that, too often, people seek declawing surgery for their cats because they believe it is a simple procedure—the equivalent of trimming your fingernails. In reality, declawing involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. Cats scratch and use their claws to mark their territory, condition their nails, defend themselves, capture prey and play. They also use their claws to stretch their backs. These are all natural behaviors.

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