Pet 411: Keep your pets safe from common household hazards

National Poison Prevention Week is officially recognized March 19-25 this year. But as a veterinarian, my colleagues and I work all year round to help educate people about the substances in their homes that can pose a danger to pets.

Most of us know by now that chocolate is harmful. But did you know about xylitol, a chemical sweetener that is 100 times more toxic to dogs than chocolates?

Xylitol prompts dogs’ bodies to secrete too much insulin, which can cause their blood sugar levels to drop dangerously. Xylitol is typically found in candy, gum — and even some unlikely things such as low-calorie baked goods and reduced-fat peanut butter.

The number of poisonings is on the rise. In 2015, there were more than 2,800 xylitol-related calls to the Pet Poison Helpline, compared to 300 calls in 2009. That’s why it’s important for all dog owners to carefully check the labels of any sugar-free food.

Another toxicity we frequently see in our hospitals? Marijuana. As a growing number of states legalize the substance, we see more cases of curious dogs who break into their owner’s supply.  In fact, Dr. David Wohlstadter-Rocha, a BluePearl senior clinician, recently told the New York Times that we see as many as one marijuana toxicity each day in one of our four New York hospitals.

Other common pet poisons include:

  • Prescription human medications
  • Insecticides
  • Over-the-counter medicines
  • Household products, such as cleaners, antifreeze and paint thinner
  • E-cigarette cartridges
  • Rodenticides
  • Lawn and garden products
  • Cocoa bean mulch

Additionally, garlic, grapes, macadamia nuts, onions, raisins and raw or undercooked food can create major problems for dogs and cats.

If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, remain calm. Call your family veterinarian or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435. And bring any remnants of the potential poison with you to help your veterinarian diagnose the problem.

So, in recognition of National Poison Prevention Week, take a few minutes to identify any potential hazards in your home. And be sure to keep contact information for an emergency animal hospital in a handy location. Your pet will thank you for it!

Have a question about your pet that you’d like answered? Write to Dr. Cathy Meeks at She’d love to hear from you, and your letter may be picked for an upcoming Pet 411 column.