Does your dog have a sweet tooth?! Dog owners may or may not be aware that xylitol, an artificial sweetener, is very dangerous and can be deadly if ingested. Xylitol is found in many sugarless products such as gum, candy, and baked goods just to name a few (see a more complete list below). While dogs can get into any product containing xylitol, the most commonly seen culprit is chewing gum. Much of the reason is that it is commonly used, and at times is easily accessible to our beloved dogs. Luckily for cat owners, xylitol does not cause serious problems in felines, according to the ASPCA.
Why is xylitol toxic to my dog?
When dogs ingest sugar their body releases insulin to give their cells the ability to use energy from the sugar they ingested. Xylitol on the other hand, causes a release of insulin but the dog’s body is unable to process xylitol as a source of energy. This causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia, which can occur within 30 minutes of ingestion. Xylitol can also cause serious liver injury that can show up 24-48 hours after ingestion. Signs of hypoglycemia are weakness, unsteadiness (ataxia), shaking, and seizures. Signs of liver injury are decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, yellow mucous membranes and skin (jaundice).
Where can xylitol be found?
Over recent years, the number and types of products that contain xylitol has greatly increased. Below is a sample list of products that may contain xylitol in varying amounts:
Gum, medications (ie-human liquid gabapentin), vitamins, baby wipes, diapers, sunscreen, makeup, lip balm, toothpaste, dental floss, breath fresheners, mouthwash, mints, drink powder, pudding, candy, chocolate, baked items, pancake syrup, ketchup and barbecue sauce.
What if I suspect my dog ingested xylitol?
If you know or suspect your dog has ingested a food item that contains xylitol, seek veterinary care immediately and call poison control as soon as possible (ASPCA Poison control, Pet Poison Hotline). It is very important to find and save the package as a reference-this will help poison control figure out the ingested amount. Even relatively small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or even death in dogs, as mentioned above.
How do you diagnose and treat xylitol toxicity?
The treatment plan will largely depend on the amount of xylitol ingested and if your pet is having clinical signs. Inducing vomiting to prevent further absorption will likely be recommended if the ingestion was recent. Blood work to check the blood sugar level and liver values is typically performed to obtain baselines. If there is concern your dog ingested a toxic level of xylitol, they will likely need to be hospitalized and monitored for low levels of blood sugar. Treatment in the hospital may include, but not be limited to intravenous (IV) fluids, dextrose (IV sugar) administration, and liver protectants. The length of the hospital stay will depend on the amount of xylitol ingested.
What precautions should I take?
Familiarize yourself with ingredients on packaging, especially gum! Often times, dogs will snoop through a purse or backpack and find gum or other treats to get into. If you know you have mischievous critters it’s best to keep human food and anything that could potentially be harmful out of reach. You can never be too safe when it comes to your sweet little fur babies!
ASPCA Animal Poison Control
Pet Poison Helpline