Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, DACVIM
Dog Toxins & PoisonsFor some folks, the start of a new year is a catalyst to lose weight and this may mean switching from plain old sugar to lower calorie sweeteners. Xylitol is one such sugar substitute that is safe for human consumption, but is toxic for dogs. In fact, it can be deadly.
Additionally, compared to sugar, it causes very little insulin release in people and insulin is not required for it to be put to use as an energy source for the body. Lastly, xylitol has been shown to prevent mouth bacteria from producing acids that damage the surfaces of the teeth. For this reason, xylitol is commonly included in toothpastes, sugar-free gum, and other oral care products.
Xylitol Toxicity in dogs
After a dog consumes a significant amount of xylitol, there is a massive release of insulin from the pancreas. This, in turn, results in a dangerously low blood sugar level and symptoms such as weakness, trembling, seizures, collapse, and even death.
At higher dosages, xylitol can cause massive liver destruction (known as necrosis) in which large numbers of liver cells die abruptly. This produces an acute health crisis and, in many cases, death.
Vomiting is often the first symptom of xylitol toxicity. Other symptoms related to the low blood sugar level develop within 30 minutes to 12 hours following consumption. When xylitol-induced liver damage occurs, blood liver enzyme values typically begin increasing within 12 to 24 hours.
The dose of xylitol considered to be toxic for dogs is 0.1 gram or more of xylitol per kg of the dog’s body weight.
What about cats and xylitol?
While xylitol ingestion in cats does cause a drop in blood sugar, this rarely happens. This is because, unlike dogs, most kitties have very discriminating palates- they don’t choose to eat products containing xylitol.
The prognosis for xylitol toxicity varies and depends on how promptly the dog receives treatment as well as the amount of xylitol that was consumed.
Believe it or not, some products advertised specifically for dogs, such as toothpaste, contain small amounts of xylitol! What are these manufacturers thinking?!
Not all product labels clearly state if they contain xylitol. If a label states only, “artificially sweetened,” presume that it contains xylitol. If you opt to use xylitol-containing products in your household, be sure to keep them completely out of your clever dog’s reach.
What to do if your dog eats xylitol
If you believe that your dog has just eaten (as in you just watched it happen) something containing xylitol, contact a veterinary hospital staff member right away. You might be advised to induce your dog to vomit at home. This is accomplished by forcing your dog to swallow hydrogen peroxide.
If you’re not really sure when the xylitol was consumed (you’ve just returned home from work and the remains of sugar-free gum wrappers are decorating the couch), transport your dog to a nearby veterinary clinic or 24-hour emergency hospital right away. Be sure to take the label of the consumed product with you. Time is always of the essence when treating xylitol toxicity.
Look around your house and see if you have any xylitol-containing products. What did you find?
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC