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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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How To Survive Halloween With Anxious Pets

Life is scary enough for anxious and reactive pets. Halloween night brings all of their fears together: strangers walking up to the front door, screaming kids, hovering decorations, and loud noises galore. We’ve put together some expert tips to help you and your cat or dog get through - and maybe even enjoy - your All Hallow’s Eve.

Planning For Halloween Night
If your main concern is avoiding trick-or-treaters on dog walks, find out what their active hours will be in your jurisdiction. Your town likely has a curfew, typically around 8 PM, when you and your pets can rest easy again. Trick-or-treating may start when school lets out and peak around 5-6 PM. When Halloween falls on the weekend, you can expect the holiday to start earlier, though it may fizzle out earlier too.
Do doorbells set your dog into a frenzy of anxious barking, or does your cat try to hide every time they think you’re having guests? Turning off the lights and leaving out the dreaded “sorry no candy” sign might work, but if you’d rather not miss out on the holiday - or put your home at risk for the TP-and-egg treatment - there are other ways to help your pet feel safe.
If you have a high-tech doorbell, you might be able to disable to sound and have it instead send a silent notification to your phone every time a trick-or-treater arrives. Or, you can make or purchase a candy dispenser so trick-or-treaters can help themselves. A simple box with a slot at the bottom works great as a self-feeding, gravity-powered dispenser.

Calming Aids For Anxious Pets On Halloween
If your pet struggles with anxiety or reactivity year-round, the weeks following up to Halloween is a good time to try some new calming aids. Most take at least a few weeks to show their full effect, so you’ll want to start them before the holiday.
Did you know that gut health is closely linked to mental health? For dogs, you can try Purina Calming Care, a probiotic supplement that contains a specific strain that has been shown to aid emotional regulation. It can take up to six weeks of daily use before you notice results.
Certain nutrients can also help manage anxiety in pets. L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea, induces feelings of calmness and well-being. Vitamin B1 also helps reduce anxiety. Composure Chews for cats and dogs contain all of these nutrients. Homeopathic remedies like Aconitum Napellus and Belladonna can also help reduce stress.
Sometimes, over-the-counter aids are not enough to manage your pet’s anxiety. Your veterinarian can prescribe a medication for daily use or just for use during difficult times.

Calming Protocol for Pets on Halloween Night
It’s generally best to keep your pets away from the front door on Halloween, even if they’re not usually anxious. With the door opening all night for trick-or-treaters, it’s very common for pets to escape and get lost.
You can set your pet up in a quiet room with all of their favorite things. A Kong or other interactive toy, some calming music, and aromatherapy can all create a calming environment on an otherwise hectic night.
For most anxious pets, Halloween is not a good time to work on behavioral training. Without prior prep, it would be like taking a rookie to the Superbowl. In some cases, your pet may respond well to counter-conditioning, especially if you start working on it ahead of time.
With counter-conditioning, you train your pet to associate an anxiety trigger with something they love. For example, you might give your dog a treat every time the doorbell rings. With practice, they can start to look forward to new people. On Halloween, though, you won’t have control over extra stressors like scary costumes and screaming monsters.
If you struggle with anxiety or reactivity, a veterinary behaviorist can help. Ask your regular veterinarian for a referral or use the professional database from The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB).