In mythology and folklore, superstitions link cats to witches and bad luck on Halloween, but it’s actually our feline friends who ought to be scaredy-cats on the fall holiday. That’s because many of its accoutrements, such as trick-or-treating, candlelit jack-o’-lanterns and candy in foil wrappers carry risks for our felines. Just the sound of kids screaming “Boo!” could give your cat nightmares for weeks.

There is good news for black-cat owners in particular, though, since the ASPCA hasn’t seen any data to confirm that such felines are at high risk on Halloween for worse fates, like catnapping or use in black magic rituals. Some shelters in the past refused to adopt out black cats as Oct. 31 approached. “The data does not support the notion that black cats are at terrible risk at Halloween,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of ASPCA Community Outreach in New York City. Nevertheless, she adds, “Cats should be kept out of harm’s way in the hubbub of this holiday season.”

Problems for Cats on Halloween
Here are some of the real hazards cats can face during Halloween and how you can prevent any harm from coming to your kitty.

  • Costumes Some pet owners like to dress up their animals during Halloween in either homemade or store-bought costumes. Before you plan on dressing up kitty in a fireman’s uniform or as a princess, consider if this will be enjoyable for your pet. “It’s probably kinder not to put them through that,” says Nancy Peterson, feral cat program manager of the Humane Society of the United States. Peterson recommends, “If you do dress them up, you want to make sure there aren’t parts of the costume that could get caught on things or they could harm themselves.”
  • Trick-or-treating When front doors are opened and closed frequently as children trick-or-treat, cats can get frightened and bolt out the door. Cats can be sensitive to sound and disruptions in routine, all of which can skyrocket their stress levels. Buchwald recommends that, before the holiday arrives, you should make sure your pet has updated ID tags, and if possible, a microchip in case they do wander off. On Halloween night, you can also place a sign on your front door asking children to avoid the doorbell and to instead knock softly. Peterson suggests placing your pet in a room with some gentle music playing and the door closed, creating a safe haven for your feline friend.
  • Candy If there is candy or treats lying around the house, your cat may be tempted — not necessarily to the sweetness, because your kitty doesn’t have sweet-taste receptors — but to foil wrappers that may catch light and look like something playful. “It’s not unlikely for kittens to want to play with crinkly wrapped items,” Buchwald says. It’s harmful enough for cats to eat candy, as some artificial sweeteners, such as xylitol, have been found to be toxic to animals. But if your cat swallows a wrapper, it could cause gastrointestinal problems that could require emergency surgery. It pays to keep candy dishes covered on Halloween night and to remind children and visitors to throw away all wrappers in covered trash cans.
  • Candles and decorations A favorite Halloween tradition involves carving a jack-o’-lantern and making it look spooky by placing a lit candle inside. Since some cats can jump up to six feet high, any lit candles or jack-o’-lanterns should be kept well out of reach of your pet. “Never leave a candle unattended,” Peterson warns. “A kitty tail can knock over a candle very easily. Also, if a cat were to jump up to where a candle is, it could be very dangerous for them.” Other Halloween decorations are equally dangerous, such as fake cobwebs, which your cat might get caught in and/or may swallow, the latter of which could result in an intestinal blockage, Peterson says. It’s best to skip the fake cobwebs altogether and to light up your jack-o’-lanterns with small, sturdy flashlights.

Safe Cat Halloween Celebrations
There are ways to prepare your feline friend for the big night of goblins and ghouls. Exercise is an important stress reducer. Playing with your pet for a bit earlier on Halloween night might therefore be the calm inducer your pet needs to brave the hullabaloo. “It’s not something that would appeal to them at a time of stress, so I wouldn’t advise it during the hubbub,” Buchwald says. “But something that involves high energy on the morning of the hubbub would be great. The idea is that a tired cat is more likely to be a calm cat.”

In addition to commercial cat toys, like wands or lasers to chase, there are some fun homemade games you can concoct to play with your cat. Peterson says that many cats enjoy batting around a pingpong ball in an empty bathtub. She also says a paper shopping bag can work wonders. Just take off the handles, cut a hole in the bottom and stick a wand through the hole to entice your cat into the bag. Many cats, Peterson says, also like to pounce on newspaper that you spread on the floor.

“On Halloween, it’s a great time to play with your kitty and make sure you spend some quality time together,” Peterson says. “Kids get so excited about trick or treating and candy, or a party, that they sometimes forget that kitty depends on them every day for love and attention.” She adds, “It’s a nice time to do something fun or even something quiet, like sit down and pet your cat. It might calm you down, too.”