Did you know Xylitol (commonly found in sugar-free gum, as well as many other foods) is more dangerous to dogs than chocolate? Most people know about the chocolate danger, but I’m here to educate you on Xylitol specifically, as I recently had a close call with a client’s dog. Since it’s top of mind for me, I thought I’d delve into it more due to the highly dangerous nature of Xylitol. Here’s the story, and how it went down:
I was house-sitting a French Bulldog puppy. While I was out, she got into the clients’ bottle (unlabelled), as I found it empty and chewed up on her bed. I texted the client, as I suspected it was gum. Sure enough, it was. I asked the client what brand it was, and after googling it, I found it did in fact contain Xylitol. I let the client know it could be an urgent situation, and they called their vet immediately. Within minutes, I was driving the puppy (who thus far had no symptoms) to the vet. The vet pumped her stomach, came up with 1 piece of gum and started IV fluids. They decided to monitor her overnight and transferred her to an ER vet nearby for constant liver function monitoring & fluids. Long story short, the puppy did well and had no liver problems, but it could have meant death if she swallowed more than 1 piece of gum. And, I found out that even though some dogs exhibit symptoms of liver poisoning in 30 minutes, some dogs don’t often show symptoms until 48- 72 hours after ingesting! So the point is if you suspect any Xylitol ingestion, get thee to a vet immediately! Later may be too late.
So what’s Xylitol?
Xylitol is a “sugar alcohol,” a natural sugar substitute that, because of its anti-cavity properties for human teeth, is commonly found in “sugar-free” gum, mints, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. Since it’s also considered a good sugar substitute for diabetics, xylitol is commonly used in sugar-free baked goods too, such as cookies and muffins. Xylitol is also present in some brands of children’s chewable vitamins and other supplements. And it’s now even being added to certain brands of PEANUT BUTTER!
In a 2004 paper, Veterinary Toxicologist, Dr. Erik Dunayer, of the ASPCA predicted that “with the increased appearance of xylitol-sweetened products in the US, xylitol toxicosis in dogs may become more common.” And right he was!
According to Dr. Tina Wismer, Veterinary Toxicologist and Medical Director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA-APCC), in 2004, when they first began keeping count of the number of xylitol poisoning calls they were receiving, they logged 201 cases (an average of one case every two days). Fast forward to 2014 and the xylitol-related calls have reached 3,727. That’s an average of over TEN calls about dogs being sickened and possibly killed by xylitol EACH day!
UPDATED CALL NUMBERS (as of July 31, 2019): It definitely looks like Dr. Dunayer’s prediction continues to be true! Xylitol calls to the ASPCA-APCC in 2018 hit a staggering 6,760 cases … a new average of over EIGHTEEN calls per day!!
Symptoms to watch for:
Because it’s such a strong stimulator of insulin release in dogs, it takes just a small amount of xylitol (0.1g/kg) eaten by a dog to cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar (“hypoglycemia”). Mild hypoglycemia will typically cause weakness and a lack of coordination. More pronounced hypoglycemia, such as that which often happens with xylitol ingestion, can lead to seizures, coma, and even death. Xylitol can cause a dangerous drop in your dog’s blood sugar in as little as 30 minutes!
As if that weren’t enough, if a dog eats just 0.5g/kg of xylitol (still a very small amount) they are at risk of suffering from “acute hepatic necrosis.” Literally translated, “acute hepatic necrosis” means “sudden liver death” and it is a severely debilitating, and frequently fatal form of liver failure.
How much is too much?
If you’re not sure what “0.1g/kg” and “0.5 g/kg” mean, you’re not alone. These are dosages — meaning the weight of something, in this case, xylitol, related to body weight. keep in mind that the typical sugar packet that you might put in your morning coffee weighs 1 gram — more than TWICE the weight of xylitol (0.45 grams) it would take to cause hypoglycemia in a 10lb dog!
Here’s the other big part of the problem with xylitol, as it relates to dogs. Though xylitol must be noted in the ingredient list of any product it’s included in, the exact amount or concentration of xylitol in many products doesn’t have to be disclosed, and often isn’t. Without this important information, it is extremely difficult to accurately determine a dog’s ingested dose in cases of poisoning. As a result, the “worst-case scenario” often has to be assumed, meaning that dogs may be put through unnecessary testing and hospitalization, and their people may be suffering unnecessary emotional and financial turmoil. Both situations could often be avoided if xylitol concentrations in products were clearly stated on product packaging and well known within the animal poison control and veterinary medical communities.
What does treatment entail?
In the event your dog develops hypoglycemia from xylitol ingestion, they will need to be admitted to the hospital for intensive monitoring, and they’ll need to be put on an IV dextrose (a source of glucose for your dog’s body) drip to support and stabilize their blood sugar levels. The duration of their hospital stay will vary with the severity of their clinical signs and their response to treatment, but you should expect at least a full day of hospitalization (often 24-48 hours is more likely). With early and aggressive treatment, the prognosis for xylitol-induced hypoglycemia is typically good, but you should be prepared to pay several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars for treatment costs and the intensive monitoring that is typically necessary.
If your dog is unfortunate enough to develop liver failure from xylitol ingestion, their prognosis will likely not be good. These pets require very aggressive care because of the range of vital functions the liver has (blood clotting, blood detoxification, blood pressure, and many others). These dogs will often spend at least 72 hours in the hospital and treatment costs will likely be well into the thousands of dollars. Many of these unfortunate dogs die from their liver failure or are euthanized when the costs skyrocket and the prognosis worsens.
Make Sure To Read The Ingredient Label
If you’re out grocery shopping, sharing a treat with your dog, or you’ve just noticed that your dog got into something they shouldn’t have, from your bag, cupboard, or off the kitchen counter – check the ingredients right away! Note that there are some common marketing “buzz” terms that you can look for on the front (promotional side) of the product packaging that might indicate that you’ll find xylitol in the ingredient list:
- Reduced Sugar
- All Natural – No Sugar Added
- No Artificial Sweeteners
- Naturally Sweetened
- 100% Natural
- Safe for Sugar-Controlled Diets
- Safe for Diabetics
- Aspartame Free
- Sweetened with Birch Sugar
- Low Carb
- Low Cal
- Low Calorie
- Helps Fight Cavities
- Cavity Fighting
- Tooth Friendly
Special thanks to Preventivevet.com
A list of Xylitol-containing products can be found here:
Do not buy these, and if you do, put them away safely so your dog can’t get into them!
Hoping this article helps you avoid an unnecessary vet visit or even the death of your beloved pup. Please share with your dog-owning friends.