Xylitol may be a familiar word that you have heard before, or it may be entirely new for you. Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is becoming more common in food products because it has 40% less calories than regular sugar. As some of you may know, xylitol and dogs do not mix at all. Many posts have made their way around Facebook, explaining the dangers of xylitol and cautioning people who give their dogs pills in peanut butter. Xylitol is not just found in peanut butter. It is also found in a variety of other things, most commonly, chewing gum. Unfortunately, at Riverview Animal Hospital, we see a significant number of cases of xylitol poisoning, and it appears that they are becoming more common.
Poisoning can occur even with the ingestion of a single piece of gum. Many gum manufacturers will not list the amount of xylitol used in their product on the packaging, so it is difficult to determine the exact amount that is ingested. If xylitol is the first ingredient on the list, it is assumed that the product contains a large amount of it. If you think that your dog has ingested anything containing xylitol, contact a veterinarian immediately. There is no antidote or reversal agent for xylitol, so supportive treatment must be started immediately and aggressively.
If xylitol is just a sugar substitute, then why is it so dangerous to dogs? When a dog ingests Xylitol, gum, for example, the body reacts as if the xylitol was real sugar. The body releases large amounts of insulin to store the sugar. Because there is not actually any sugar to store, the insulin stores any sugar it can find in the bloodstream. When normal amounts of sugar are taken out of circulation, the dog will quickly become hypoglycemic. With extremely low blood sugar levels, dogs can experience weakness, vomiting, tremors, collapse, and seizures. If immediate treatment is not started, xylitol poisoning can cause death.
The good thing is, xylitol poisoning is completely preventable. In the cases we have seen recently, all of the dogs ingested packages of gum. By making sure that gum and other products containing xylitol are stored away from curious dogs, we can prevent these types of poisonings. Supervise kids that have gum as well to make sure that they aren’t sharing their treat with their four-legged friends. In these cases, the owners were lucky enough to be at home when the gum was ingested. If they had not been home, their dogs may not have received the medical care they needed in time. For your dog’s sake, it’s best to keep gum and other xylitol products completely out of reach, so there is no risk for accidental ingestion.
Some common household products that contain xylitol can include:
- Chewing gum
- Peanut butter
- Sugar-free candy
- Sugar-free breath mints
- Fruit drinks
- Jellies and jams
- Baked goods
- Sugar-free puddings and Jello
- Over the counter vitamin supplements
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 506.387.4015
Written by Kelsey Hewgill, RVT and Dr. Lethan Dwan