What is Xylitol?
Read the label on your package of gum and you will see an ingredient known as xylitol that is widely used in place of sugar. It is naturally occurring in corn, mushrooms, fruits such as plums and berries, oats, lettuce and trees. Xylitol is extracted from hardwood and birch trees, vegetable material, and corn fiber.
Xylitol continues to be used in a variety of foods including baked goods, breath mints, mouthwash, toothpaste, sugar-free gum and candies, to name a few. Manufactured into a white powder, it tastes and looks just like white sugar, but much sweeter. It registers quite low on the glycemic index making it quite popular with those on low carbohydrate eating plans and diabetics. Plus, it is low in calories and will not elevate blood sugar levels the way regular sugar can. Xylitol helps prevent cavities, stimulates the production of saliva and reduces the formation of plaque on teeth.
Xylitol may be safe for humans though it can have a laxative effect causing mild intestinal discomfort and/or diarrhea, but it is extremely toxic to dogs. The smallest amount can cause liver failure, seizures, low blood sugar and death in dogs. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, do not wait until they get worse. See your veterinarian immediately.
Animal Poison Control Receives Thousands of Calls
Animal poison control centers receive thousands of phone calls each week related to xylitol poisoning in dogs. When dogs eat something with xylitol, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing the pancreas to release a powerful dose of insulin. The quick release of insulin causes a decrease in blood sugar within minutes of eating something with xylitol in it that can be life-threatening to dogs.
More Toxic Than Chocolate
The most common cases come from sugar-free gum. It takes only two pieces to cause hypoglycemia in dogs and over ten pieces could cause liver failure, depending on the brand and the amount of xylitol in the gum. It is estimated that xylitol is one hundred times as toxic as chocolate to dogs.
Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning
It is important to get treatment by your veterinarian immediately. Do not give anything orally or induce vomiting unless directed by your veterinarian. Some dogs are already hypoglycemic, so inducing vomiting can make matters worse. Signs and symptoms include:
• Difficulty walking or standing
Your veterinarian will make a confirmed diagnosis before beginning or prescribing treatment. Treatment may include IV fluids, medication to protect the liver and sugar supplementation. It is important for your veterinarian to prevent any severe health problems and reverse the toxic effects of xylitol.
If you have seen your dog eat gum with xylitol and does not show any symptoms, it would still be a good idea to take your dog to your veterinarian. He or she might induce vomiting to ensure that no more xylitol is absorbed and may check blood glucose levels. It might be necessary for your dog to be hospitalized for monitoring of blood glucose, administering IV fluids, medications to protect the liver and other care. Your veterinarian will want to make sure that liver function and blood sugar levels are normal.
Keep all products that contain xylitol out of reach of all pets. Do not share your food with your dog or brush your pet’s teeth with toothpaste. Like with any poisoning, rapid treatment and decontamination is critical. Pet Poison Helpline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-213-6680, however do you all you can to keep anything with xylitol away from your pet.
Reviewed and approved by Dr. David L. Roberts, DVM