Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pet Haunts

Halloween can be fun or frightening for pets. Three experts share tips on making it a good experience for them

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Lightsabers swish through the air. Jack-o’-lanterns cast spooky shadows. Giant spiders crouch outside homes. Halloween is delightfully frightful for people who enjoy dressing up, collecting or handing out candy, and visiting the pumpkin patch.

Pets? Not so much. Some get into the spirit, rocking unicorn, dragon or bumblebee costumes, but others are bewitched, bothered and bewildered by all the goings-on. Plan ahead to ensure that a good time is had by all.

Prep steps. Start conditioning your pet now to the sight of people in costumes, to the sights and sounds of electronic or inflatable decorations, or to wearing a costume herself.

“Condition all that with treats,” says Halloween-loving veterinarian Lisa Radosta, DVM, co-author of the book “From Fearful to Fear Free” (with Dr. Marty Becker). She decorates her home with strobe lights, pumpkins, fake candles, hanging decorations, items that glow in the dark and figures that say “Boo” when people -- or pets -- walk past them.

Combine all of those things with something special that your pet loves. That might be tiny bits of cheese, steak or low-sodium deli turkey. And you don’t have to use food treats. “For a border collie, if the decoration makes a sound, you toss a frisbee. For a Lab, a tennis ball,” Dr. Radosta says.

Let your pet watch you don your costume. “You can look really scary,” Radosta says. “Put on your whole outfit and condition your dog not to be scared of you when you dress up.” Walk around the house with the costume on, offering treats or play as you do so.

Instead of just shoving your pet into a costume a couple of hours before a party or pet costume parade, start practicing now. Put the costume on a little at a time, rewarding each step of the way.

Make sure it fits well and doesn’t restrict vision, hearing or movement. Once your pet is used to wearing the entire costume, gradually increase the length of time she wears it. “Most dogs and cats will appreciate wearing the costume for only a short period for a photo opportunity in exchange for treats,” says Mikkel Becker, lead trainer for Fear Free Pets.

And remember, there’s nothing wrong with dogs or cats dressing up in only a bat-themed bandana or even just their birthday suit.

Ding dong. How many of you have dogs who bark wildly or cats who head under the bed when they hear the doorbell ring? On Halloween, that can go on for hours, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Cover the doorbell and use something outside the door that makes a different sound or lights up when people approach, Radosta suggests. That way you’re alerted to the presence of trick-or-treaters, but your pet isn’t reacting to the sound of the doorbell or a knock at the door. Or set up a treat station in the yard so you aren’t constantly opening and closing the door.

That also prevents your pet from slipping out the door and becoming lost. Halloween is the second most common time of the year for pets to become lost, says Marty Becker, DVM, founder of Fear Free. That’s because the front door opens more frequently than usual, pets may feel territorial at the approach of so many strangers, or pets who are taken trick-or-treating may slip their collars.

Finally, if your pet just doesn’t enjoy this haunting holiday, give him a quiet retreat in your home away from the action -- a little-used bathroom or guest bedroom are good choices -- or consider boarding him overnight and picking him up the next day. You’ll both be happier.


Allergic to cats?

New food may help

Q: I heard about a new food for cats that will reduce human allergies to them. Is that really available?

A: The short answer is that a product like that is in the works and may be available within the year. That’s huge for people who love cats but are allergic to them, as well as for cats in shelters who need homes.

Cats are the most common cause of animal-origin allergies in humans. What causes the allergy is a protein called Fel d1 that’s produced by cats and found in their saliva; anal and sebaceous glands; skin; and fur. It’s often said that certain cat breeds are hypoallergenic, but the truth is that all cats produce Fel d1 to varying degrees. The amount they produce depends on hormonal status and has nothing to do with breed or fur color or length.

The Purina Institute sought to find ways to manage cat allergens and reduce the numbers of cats given up to shelters by allergic people. Researchers didn’t want to knock out Fel d1 because right now, its purpose is unknown. It could turn out to be important to feline health.

Instead, they looked at ways to prevent the allergen from interacting with Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies produced by the human immune system when it reacts to an allergen. The solution was an antibody in food that would bind Fel d1 in cat saliva and neutralize the allergen at the source.

The product has been tested for safety in cats and efficacy in humans in double-blinded crossover studies with good results.

Most people with allergies are allergic to multiple things. Even if the food doesn’t completely eliminate their allergy to cats, it may reduce it enough to help them stay below the threshold that causes their allergies to flare. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

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Pet DNA tests

fun, useful

-- Wondering whether to get a DNA test for your dog or cat? Besides finding out if your guess as to his breed or mix is correct, the tests can have some other benefits you might not have considered. Swabbing a pet’s cheek and mailing the collected cells in a test tube for analysis not only identifies a dog or cat’s genetic heritage, it can also give you some health background, such as whether a pet carries a gene for a particular disease or may be sensitive to certain drugs. The results are not specific enough to use for diagnosing disease, but they can provide insights into a pet’s behavior and health.

-- Beneath his dignified demeanor, the British shorthair is an easygoing and affectionate companion for anyone who loves a cat with a cushy, full-cheeked appearance; large, round eyes; and a plush coat of many colors. In fact, while you might have always thought the breed was actually the British blue, the cats’ fur palette includes white, black, red, smoke, the various tabby patterns, calico, tortoiseshell and many other patterns and combinations. Exceptions include chocolate, lavender and the Himalayan pattern. Because of their laid-back nature, British shorthairs are good companions for both quiet households and families with kids and other pets.

-- Inhalant allergies caused by pollen, trees, grasses, molds and other substances affect approximately 15% of dogs and usually develop between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. Suspect allergies if your dog is itchy, licks or chews at his feet, rubs his face on the floor, or has rashes in armpit and groin areas. Allergies are best dealt with by avoiding the offending allergen whenever possible. Keep your dog indoors when pollen counts are high, and switch to fragrance-free detergents and fabric softeners. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.