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Why Sugar-Free Candy Is Harmful for Your Dog

on October 25, 2015
Posted in Dogs

Festive times of the year such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter are marked by the abundance of treats  virtually everywhere. These goodies may be fun for us but can be deadly for our pets.

Most people know that chocolate is toxic to dogs but did you know that it’s equally important to keep sugar-free candy away from your dog? Many human sugar-free products contain xylitol, a natural sweetener that is safe (maybe even beneficial) for humans. Unfortunately, xylitol is quite toxic to dogs. Keep an eye out for labels that say “naturally sweetened” and check the ingredient list for xylitol.

How is Xylitol Toxic to Dogs?

Xylitol is absorbed into the bloodstream much more quickly in dogs than in people. This causes a sudden increase in the insulin levels in a dog’s body soon after it is ingested. The result is an equally quick drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) that can be severe enough to cause the following signs:

  • Vomiting (often the first sign noticed by owners)
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements and wobbliness)
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Xylitol is also known to cause liver damage in dogs in certain instances. This liver damage may be irreversible.

What Types of Products Contain Xylitol?

Xylitol is increasing in popularity as a natural sweetener in sugar-free products, and it is appearing in a huge array of items including, but not limited to:

  • Gum
  • Baked goods
  • Candy
  • Toothpaste
  • Vitamins
  • Peanut butter

How Much Xylitol is Toxic?

The amount of xylitol that is present in different products varies widely. It can be difficult to tell, in fact, how much is contained in a product because it is usually listed as a food ingredient. Xylitol amounts may even vary quite a bit between different flavors of the same brand of candy or gum. One piece of gum, in some cases, can cause hypoglycemia in a 20-pound dog.

If a product contains any xylitol at all and your dog ingests it, it is best to assume that he received a toxic dose and act accordingly.

How Is Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of canine xylitol poisoning is made with a history of ingestion of the substance along with signs of low blood sugar. Liver changes may also be noted when the blood is tested.

If xylitol ingestion is not a certainty,  other causes of hypoglycemia such as an overdose of insulin (in diabetics) and other causes of acute liver failure, like mushroom toxicity, must be considered.

Treatment of Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs

If your dog ingests an item containing xylitol, time is of the essence. Call your veterinarian immediately or call your local emergency veterinary clinic. Most of the time, all or some of the following treatments will be necessary:

  • Induction of vomiting. Do not induce your dog to vomit at home unless you are instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
  • Intravenous  treatment with fluids containing glucose, or sugar, to bring your dog’s blood sugar levels back up to normal
  • Other treatments such as blood transfusion may be necessary if your dog develops liver failure.

Prognosis for Canine Xylitol Poisoning

If your dog has hypoglycemia secondary to xylitol poisoning that is uncomplicated by liver dysfunction and treatment is instituted immediately and aggressively, the prognosis for a full recovery is good. If your dog is not treated until seizures develop, the prognosis drops to poor.

How Can You Protect Your Dog from Xylitol Toxicity?

The best way you can protect your dog from this dangerous poisoning is to be aware of what xylitol is and what types of products contain it.

  • Be diligent in keeping xylitol and any products that may contain it secured away from your dog. This will require extra attention around times like Halloween, when more of these types of products may be in your home.
  • Always keep your purse secured away from your dog’s reach because it is a common place for dogs to find xylitol-containing gum.
  • Make sure that people entering your home, especially children, know that they shouldn’t feed anything to your dog without asking you first.
  • Be aware that some products you may never think of may contain xylitol. Some of these include:
  • Certain types of peanut butter, which is a common food that is actually given to dogs as a treat or with medications. Make sure that your peanut butter brand doesn’t contain xylitol if you share it with your dog.
  • Some sinus sprays.
  • Toothpastes, especially “natural” varieties.
Read also: Manual vs. Free Choice Feeding for Your Cat

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 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

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