Tips for an Animal-Friendly Halloween

Just before Halloween in 1969, “Peanuts” director Bill Melendez accompanied me and a photographer to a pumpkin stand on Pico Boulevard. “Let’s see a beautiful smile, my Lucy,” Melendez said, “for the Great Pumpkin.” The photo was used to promote the upcoming release of the movie “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.”


Halloween can be a treat but keeping animals safe doesn’t have to be tricky. Here are some tips for making your Halloween fun and animal-friendly.

Keep candy out of reach of animals

The candy bowl is for trick-or-treaters, not animals. Lots of common Halloween treats are toxic to pets. Chocolate in all forms—especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for dogs and cats, and sugar-free candies containing the sugar substitute xylitol can cause serious problems in pets. If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your veterinarian immediately.

Better yet, have a vegan Halloween

Vegan Halloween treats aren’t hard to come by. There are plenty of plant-based, cruelty-free options available right in the middle of the candy aisle of your local supermarket. The following candy brands are all vegan and widely available in grocery or convenience stores, making them ideal for hungry trick-or-treaters. While these brands are vegan, be sure to double check the ingredients before purchasing. Do the same with any special Halloween versions of these products, as this sometimes means a change in the standard recipe.

Vegan candies: Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, Cracker Jack, Gummi Bears, Swedish Fish, Skittles, Mamba Fruit Chews, Sour Patch Kids, Dots, Smarties, Sweet Tarts.

When shopping for vegan Halloween candy, avoid the following ingredients associated with animal cruelty:

Dairy: Found mostly in chocolate and caramel products, this can also be described as milkfat, whey, or caesin.

Gelatin: A common ingredient in gummy candies, gelatin is made from animal tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Shellac: Also known as “confectioner’s glaze,” this glossy product is created using the excretions of certain insects.

Carmine: Usually found in bright red products, carmine is a pigment made by crushing the shell of a female cochineal insect.

Eggs: Obviously not plant-based!

Of course, an even healthier alternative would be sweet and delicious dried fruits, like raisins, berries, and plantain chips, also readily available in every supermarket.

Watch the decorations and keep wires out of reach

While a carved jack-o-lantern may be festive, pets can accidentally knock over a lit pumpkin and start a fire. Curious puppies and kittens are especially at risk of getting burned or singed by candle flame. Decorative Halloween plants like gourds and multi-colored corn are considered relatively nontoxic but can produce stomach discomfort in your animal companions who nibble on them.

Skip the costumes for your animal companions

For many dogs and cats, wearing a costume can cause undue stress and discomfort. Please don’t put your dog or cat in a costume; consider limiting his or her “costume” to a safely-tied, colorful bandana. If you insist on dressing an animal for Halloween, make sure the costume does not restrict his or her movement, sight or ability to breathe. Check the costume carefully for small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that could present a choking hazard. Know, too, that ill-fitting outfits can get caught on things, leading to injury.

Keep pets calm and easily identifiable

Halloween brings a flurry of activity with visitors arriving at the door, and too many strangers can often be scary and stressful for your pets. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours. While opening the door for guests, be sure that your dog or cat doesn’t dart outside. And always make sure he or she is wearing proper identification—if for any reason he or she does escape, a collar with ID tags and a microchip can be a lifesaver for a lost animal friend. Make sure the collar is fitted properly, too. Too tight, and breathing is restricted; too loose, and curious animals who explore tight places head-first can get caught and strangle. If you can slip two fingers easily between the collar and your pet’s neck, that’s just right.

Recycle your pumpkins for homeless animals

Stop! Don’t throw away that carved pumpkin when Halloween is over! Hollowed-out pumpkins make safe, warm, and edible housing for small animals. I leave mine in the woods. Check back days later, and you’ll often find a chipmunk or other small animal has moved in. Squirrels, rabbits, and other animals may make a holiday feast of your discarded pumpkin, too.

Peace to all the animals with whom we share the planet!