10/25/2011 at 05:00 PM EDT
With Halloween just around the corner, pet owners have chosen their little critter's costumes
and packed the house with tasty treats.
But while the holiday can be a fun time for the family, it can also prove dangerous for the animals in your home.
"Sometimes the pets get kind of lost in the mix between the activities and the children and the adults running around," says Dr. Tina Wismer, the medical director at the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center.
To better prepare your household and your pet for the big day, Dr. Wismer shares with PEOPLE her key tips for keeping pets safe this time of year:
Separate your pet from the festivities.
With the noise and commotion that comes from repeatedly answering the door for trick-or-treaters or throwing a Halloween party, "animals can get frightened or over-stimulated. It's not uncommon that we get a lot of animals that slip out the door and get lost," she says. "Make sure your animal is confined in an area where it's going to be protected and can't get itself into trouble. Whether crated or in a bathroom or bedroom, keep it away from the activity."
Avoid decorations that use candles.
Speaking to the dangers of items like jack-o-lanterns, Dr. Wismer says, "Dogs, but especially cats, with those big fluffy tails, can catch on fire. Make sure there are no open flames around."
Steer clear of sweets.
The biggest concern for pets, dogs in particular, during Halloween is the accidental ingestion of chocolate, which can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and eventually, seizures. "For most dogs, it takes about an ounce of milk chocolate per pound of dog to cause seizures," she says. "But with dark chocolate, it only takes a third of that amount. With baker's chocolate, it's only 1/7 of an ounce per pound."
In addition, owners should be aware of any raisins or candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol. "Raisins can actually cause kidney failure," Dr. Wismer says. "Xylitol causes a release of insulin in dogs. Their blood sugar actually drops and they can start to seizure. A lot of it is in sugar-free gum, but also some of our mints and candies can also have it."
Test out costumes before deciding on one.
"Dressing up our pets, it's something that you actually kind of have to train your pet to go slow with," she says. "If you put anything on them, it's like they're paralyzed." When picking an outfit, Dr. Wismer says to watch out for any materials that can restrict pets' movement or lead the animal to chew on the costume, particularly attire accentuated with yarn, streamers or tinsel. "Those types of things can get stuck in the digestive track," she warns. "And metallic or Mylar streamers can actually cut through it."
Keep the liquor cabinet closed.
For adult get-togethers, Dr. Wismer advises owners to ensure the alcohol is out of reach, and to clean up after a party before going to bed. "It's not uncommon for people to wake up the day after and the dog has cleaned up the glasses," she says. "Now we've got a drunk puppy."
Beyond these general guidelines, Dr. Wismer says owners should care for their pets on an individual basis to achieve the best results. "The most important thing is you know your own animal best," she says. "Some dogs want to be right in the action, while others are more comfortable being put away somewhere quiet. Assess it on a case-by-case basis."