Vet issues urgent Halloween warning about viral DIY pet costumes

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spooky ghost halloween

This Halloween Dr. Anna Foreman, Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet, has issued an urgent warning for pet owners as several dangerous DIY dog fancy dress costumes have gone viral on TikTok…

In one video, which has had over 2.1 million views, two dogs are attached to each other by a slinky and unable to move independently. In another, seen by 11 million people, a dog’s fur has been dyed to resemble a tiger, while a separate video, amassing 452k views, sees a dog subjected to having its face painted.

In light of this, Dr Foreman has spoken out on the dangers of creating DIY Halloween costumes.

What are your thoughts on the TikTok video of the DIY Halloween costume with 2 dogs attached by a slinky?

This costume is home-made and shows two dogs linked together with a spring to simulate a character from a popular film.

The spring is attached to one dog’s neck, and the other dog’s bottom – this component could asphyxiate the front dog, and mean the back dog cannot exhibit normal behaviour such as sitting down, one of its five welfare freedoms.

Viral Halloween diy costume

The cap on the ‘front’ dog is also obstructing its eyes and ears, impacting on its vision and hearing. Being attached together by the spring also means that the dogs cannot get away from one another. Obstructed senses may make the front dog more reactive additionally.

What are the dangers of dyeing a dog’s fur?

I personally do not agree with painting, dying or otherwise colouring a pet’s fur. There is no situation where dying a pet’s fur is benefiting the animal themselves – it is purely benefiting us for aesthetic purposes.

Dangers include:

  • A risk of toxicity from inappropriate product use – Human hair colourants and paints, including ‘non-toxic’ kids paint, should be avoided as they are toxic if ingested and can harm the skin.
  • Fear, anxiety or aggression being displayed by a dog, with their owner at risk of being harmed
  • Risk of skin irritation
  • If skin is broken, dyes should be avoided as they can lead to infection
  • Water, shampoo or dye in a dog’s eyes, or on any of their orifices could be a problem as mucosal junctions tend to be very sensitive

What are the dangers/potential consequences of creating a DIY costume from scratch for pets?

Premade animal costumes usually must pass some form of safety testing before being sold. DIY costumes are not, and so should be avoided in animals for the following reasons:

  • Adhesives used can be toxic if contact with the skin, eyes or mucosal membranes is made, or if ingested
  • Parts of the costume are more likely to fall off and be ingested, leading to a gastrointestinal upset, or worse toxicity or obstruction
  • Parts of the costume may be restrictive and cause distress, or more seriously cut off blood supply to the limbs, head or tail. This can lead to catastrophic injuries, such as the loss of a limb or even life
  • Parts of the costume may be flammable leading to injury – particularly as animals do not have the ability to remove costumes from themselves if uncomfortable or if something goes wrong

What are some of the signs that a pet is uncomfortable or distressed in a costume?

Although a lot of owners see no harm in animals wearing costumes for Halloween, many show signs of distress that owners are not attuned to. The danger of ignoring an animal showing subtle signs of distress is that they may escalate this behaviour very quickly to aggression if they are being ignored.

When animals become distressed they tend to exhibit the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. If animals become stressed in a costume, there is the risk that they may exhibit the ‘flight’ response and run away, which is particularly dangerous if they are outside.

Pets may also injure themselves trying to get out of clothing – for example, cats and dogs can get neckwear stuck in their mouth, which can cause jaw and tooth injuries, they can seriously injure a limb or their head if they get a leg stuck in a costume and lose their balance. If an animal gets an outfit stuck over their head they may asphyxiate themselves if it is not a breathable material.

If an animal is unable to remove the items, or are so terrified they exhibit the ‘freeze’ rather than fight or flight response, then they may simply sit still with their ears and head down, trying to make themselves as small as possible.

If an animal becomes extremely stressed, which can be the case with many cats and small pets, then they can suffer a heart attack or other fatal stress related event.

More worryingly, some animals can exhibit the ‘fight’ response and become aggressive when put in a costume. Looking at the ‘ladder of aggression’, they may start by licking their nose or lips, yawning and turning away, but this can turn quickly into growling, snapping and biting. Owners tend not to be attuned to these early signs of distress, which is why many animals have to resort to the later signs to get the message across.

halloween

What are the safest materials for a pet to wear?

If a dog needs to wear a coat or jumper, it should be made of a soft fitting material if indoors or can be made of a waterproof material if being worn outside.

The clothes should not be too tight (can lead to blood supply issues), or too loose (so the animal gets stuck in the item which can lead to an injury as above).

Otherwise a dog should only wear a costume if they are not exhibiting stress related behaviours when wearing it (see ladder of aggression note as above).

Cats should never wear outfits – as mentioned above only a medical pet shirt is suitable for a cat to wear. There is no instance where dressing a cat or small pet up is ethical or in their best interest.

How can pets join in during Halloween without dressing up?

Overall, there is absolutely no need for an animal to dress up at Halloween. No owner can physically monitor an animal constantly when wearing one, and so the risk of a problem or injury is high. Animals do not enjoy wearing costumes, they are simply used for our benefit only.

Instead, there are other ways dogs can join in during Halloween:

  • Make dog friendly Halloween treats which can include the insides of pumpkins from carving – too much of this can cause a gastrointestinal upset however, and treats should be given in moderation/main meals reduced accordingly to prevent obesity.
  • Friendly, well-trained dogs can still participate in trick or treating. Unfortunately, many dogs are reactive to strangers or other dogs, particularly in the dark or if startled by a costume. If a dog is kept on a lead, is friendly with other dogs and people, and most importantly enjoys visiting new places and meeting new people, it may be appropriate to take them trick or treating. Make sure to respect how others feel about dogs too.
  • Dogs can be given the leftovers (in moderation) from activities such as apple bobbing.
  • Take your dog for an autumnal walk – this is guaranteed to be the thing they will enjoy the most, far more than a party or being dressed up!

This is a guest post by Dr. Anna Foreman. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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