Xylitol – Dangerous for Dogs
Veterinarian Reviewed on November 27, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Now that Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is coming many of us are thinking about doing a little dieting before all the rest of the holiday feasts. If you are going to include items in your diet that contain the sugar substitute, xylitol, be sure not to share those with your pets!
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and is found naturally in very tiny amounts in some foods like berries and corn, mushrooms and oats. The commercial product is made from processing corn cobs, wood chips (especially birch), or other plant material. Although it tastes just as sweet as sugar, it has about 40% less food energy, making it ideal for “low carb” dieters and for diabetics. Xylitol is found in gums and toothpastes, although many other food items, such as breads and desserts may also contain this sugar substitute. It is apparently safe to use in humans but not in dogs!
According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and the ASPCA Poison Control Center the number of xylitol-related pet exposures has increased in the last few years. Xylitol is 100 times as toxic as chocolate is to dogs. Dogs who ingest a large amount of the sugar substitute develop a profound hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, within 30 minutes of consumption. This decrease in blood sugar is due to a rapid increase in the production of insulin in the dog’s body.
Small amounts of xylitol do not appear to be any safer.
A 22 lb dog who consumes only 1 gram of xylitol can generate the rapid insulin production and the associated drop in blood sugar levels. The popular gum, Trident, contains almost 0.20 grams of xylitol in each stick. No amount of xylitol is safe for dogs. Even very small doses can cause liver failure. Unfortunately xylitol is found in a lot of common products such as children’s chewable multi-vitamins, certain cough medications, and even mouthwashes as well as sugar-free gum, candies and diabetic cookies. A word of caution—there are some pet oral care products that contain xylitol which, at prescribed doses, is supposed to be safe, but I do not recommend these.
Dogs who consume xylitol will most often appear to be weak and uncoordinated, due to the sudden decrease in blood sugar levels. The pet may also start to seizure as potassium levels in the blood start to drop as well. Due to the severity and quick mechanism of action, anyone who suspects that their pet may have ingested a xylitol containing product should seek veterinary advice immediately. Your veterinarian will run blood tests and treat your dog with intravenous fluids and medication to stabilize the potassium and blood sugar. If treated quickly the prognosis is good. If treatment is delayed, it can prove fatal.
Prevention of xylitol toxicity is easy. Do not keep anything in your house that contains xylitol, or, if you do use these products store them safely away from your pet.
HAVE YOU HAD EXPERIENCE WITH THIS IN YOUR PET?
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan