Do Pets Enjoy Dressing Up for Halloween?

iStock.com/JasonCordell
iStock.com/JasonCordell

Each Halloween, social media becomes congested with pictures of people's furry companions decked out in capes, caps, wings, and other Halloween flair. A Labradoodle is adorable to begin with. Put him in a bee costume and people melt.

But look closely at some of these photos. In the pet’s eyes you might see a note of humiliation or sadness. Like the court jester, they’ve been made to be comic relief. Shame seems to envelop them like a dark cloud. It’s as if a dog knows his dignity is circling the drain.

In forcing them to wear a Yoda costume, are we depriving our pets of a basic right to decency? What if they’re just doing it for us?

A dog wears a hot dog costume for Halloween
Studio Sarah Lou, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

“That's one possibility,” says Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., an adjunct associate professor at Barnard College and author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. “We are a society that asks dogs to stay frozen while we balance a dog treat on their nose. It pays off for them because we eventually give them the treat, the attention, the love. Dogs certainly have learned to endure small discomforts for our pleasure.”

Rather than be happy about having an alter ego—say, a hot dog—pets might instead be thinking their human handlers are scolding them, Horowitz says. That's because domesticated dogs have wolf-like ancestors. Their cousins, wolves (Canis lupus), are prone to covering a subservient wolf’s body with their own as a form of reprimand. In covering a dog’s body with a costume, a dog might have a genetic disposition to feel like they’re being corrected. That’s why some might simply freeze in place or otherwise act sullen.

“If they duck to get away, keep their tail low or ears back, or generally keep their body tight and low, that's submissive, appeasement behavior,” Horowitz says.

A dog wears a frog costume for Halloween
Photo courtesy of the city of Marietta, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Even if you feel like you’re not causing your dog emotional damage, costumes should still be evaluated for possible physical dangers. No puppy duds should obscure their eyes or face or fit too snugly around their chest. (It can restrict breathing.) They should be visible in low-light conditions, either for trick-or-treating or in case they dash out of the house. Some vets have reported having to surgically remove small accessories or objects that were dislodged from costumes and swallowed, so it’s good to make sure nothing on the outfit is removable.

If your dog exhibits signs of duress—pawing, itching, cowering, pinned ears, tucked tail—then you should reconsider their participation in the festivities. If you want to test their temperament before buying a costume, try putting them in a T-shirt. If they look unhappy, spare them the additional stress of dressing them up like a taco.

As for cats? “I would not do this,” Horowitz says. “Cats don't suffer our ridiculousness.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Why Do People Get Ice Cream Headaches?

CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus
CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus

Reader Susann writes in to ask, "What exactly is the cause of brain freeze?"

You may know an ice cream headache by one of its other names: brain freeze, a cold-stimulus headache, or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ("nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion"). But no matter what you call it, it hurts like hell.

Brain freeze is brought on by the speedy consumption of cold beverages or food. According to Dr. Joseph Hulihan—a principal at Paradigm Neuroscience and former associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the Temple University Health Sciences Center, ice cream is a very common cause of head pain, with about one third of a randomly selected population succumbing to ice cream headaches.

What Causes That Pain?

As far back as the late 1960s, researchers pinned the blame on the same vascular mechanisms—rapid constriction and dilation of blood vessels—that were responsible for the aura and pulsatile pain phases of migraine headaches. When something cold like ice cream touches the roof of your mouth, there is a rapid cooling of the blood vessels there, causing them to constrict. When the blood vessels warm up again, they experience rebound dilation. The dilation is sensed by pain receptors and pain signals are sent to the brain via the trigeminal nerve. This nerve (also called the fifth cranial nerve, the fifth nerve, or just V) is responsible for sensation in the face, so when the pain signals are received, the brain often interprets them as coming from the forehead and we perceive a headache.

With brain freeze, we're perceiving pain in an area of the body that's at a distance from the site of the actual injury or reception of painful stimulus. This is a quirk of the body known as referred pain, and it's the reason people often feel pain in their neck, shoulders, and/or back instead of their chest during a heart attack.

To prevent brain freeze, try the following:

• Slow down. Eating or drinking cold food slowly allows one's mouth to get used to the temperature.

• Hold cold food or drink in the front part of your mouth and allow it to warm up before swallowing.

• Head north. Brain freeze requires a warm ambient temperature to occur, so it's almost impossible for it to happen if you're already cold.

This story has been updated for 2019.

Why Does Humidity Make Us Feel Hotter?

Tomwang112/iStock via Getty Images
Tomwang112/iStock via Getty Images

With temperatures spiking around the country, we thought it might be a good time to answer some questions about the heat index—and why humidity makes us feel hotter.

Why does humidity make us feel hotter?

To answer that question, we need to talk about getting sweaty.

As you probably remember from your high school biology class, one of the ways our bodies cool themselves is by sweating. The sweat then evaporates from our skin, and it carries heat away from the body as it leaves.

Humidity throws a wrench in that system of evaporative cooling, though. As relative humidity increases, the evaporation of sweat from our skin slows down. Instead, the sweat just drips off of us, which leaves us with all of the stinkiness and none of the cooling effect. Thus, when the humidity spikes, our bodies effectively lose a key tool that could normally be used to cool us down.

What's relative about relative humidity?

We all know that humidity refers to the amount of water contained in the air. However, as the air’s temperature changes, so does the amount of water the air can hold. (Air can hold more water vapor as the temperature heats up.) Relative humidity compares the actual humidity to the maximum amount of water vapor the air can hold at any given temperature.

Whose idea was the heat index?

While the notion of humidity making days feel warmer is painfully apparent to anyone who has ever been outside on a soupy day, our current system owes a big debt to Robert G. Steadman, an academic textile researcher. In a 1979 research paper called, “An Assessment of Sultriness, Parts I and II,” Steadman laid out the basic factors that would affect how hot a person felt under a given set of conditions, and meteorologists soon used his work to derive a simplified formula for calculating heat index.

The formula is long and cumbersome, but luckily it can be transformed into easy-to-read charts. Today your local meteorologist just needs to know the air temperature and the relative humidity, and the chart will tell him or her the rest.

Is the heat index calculation the same for everyone?

Not quite, but it’s close. Steadman’s original research was founded on the idea of a “typical” person who was outdoors under a very precise set of conditions. Specifically, Steadman’s everyman was 5’7” tall, weighed 147 pounds, wore long pants and a short-sleeved shirt, and was walking at just over three miles per hour into a slight breeze in the shade. Any deviations from these conditions will affect how the heat/humidity combo feels to a certain person.

What difference does being in the shade make?

Quite a big one. All of the National Weather Service’s charts for calculating the heat index make the reasonable assumption that folks will look for shade when it’s oppressively hot and muggy out. Direct sunlight can add up to 15 degrees to the calculated heat index.

How does wind affect how dangerous the heat is?

Normally, when we think of wind on a hot day, we think of a nice, cooling breeze. That’s the normal state of affairs, but when the weather is really, really hot—think high-90s hot—a dry wind actually heats us up. When it’s that hot out, wind actually draws sweat away from our bodies before it can evaporate to help cool us down. Thanks to this effect, what might have been a cool breeze acts more like a convection oven.

When should I start worrying about high heat index readings?

The National Weather Service has a handy four-tiered system to tell you how dire the heat situation is. At the most severe level, when the heat index is over 130, that's classified as "Extreme Danger" and the risk of heat stroke is highly likely with continued exposure. Things get less scary as you move down the ladder, but even on "Danger" days, when the heat index ranges from 105 to 130, you probably don’t want to be outside. According to the service, that’s when prolonged exposure and/or physical activity make sunstroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion likely, while heat stroke is possible.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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