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What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a low-calorie sugar substitute used to improve the taste of products that don’t contain sugar. You can find it in gum and candy, peanut butter, and sugar-free baked goods. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, calls about xylitol pet poisonings increased by 108% between 2015 and 2020. In 2020, the number of calls to the helpline concerning xylitol poisoning was second only to chocolate poisoning calls.
You may be surprised to find out that other products that sometimes contain xylitol include chewable vitamins, dental products, nasal sprays, sunscreen, deodorant, makeup and hair products, some human medications, and even baby wipes. Xylitol is often included in personal-care products because it produces a cooling sensation and helps maintain moisture.
The Dangers of Xylitol
Typically, the dose of xylitol needed to cause poisoning is at least 0.05 grams per pound of body weight (0.1 grams per kilogram of body weight). Chewing gum and breath mints contain 0.22-1.0 grams of xylitol per piece of gum or per mint. Thus, to achieve a potentially toxic dose, a 10-pound dog would only have to eat one piece of gum.
Xylitol toxicosis can occur in dogs after ingestion of xylitol or xylitol-containing products. Profound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is the most common clinical effect, which may result in vomiting, weakness, depression, hypokalemia (extremely low potassium levels), seizures, and/or a coma.
Some dogs have developed severe liver damage after xylitol ingestion. Signs of poisoning can develop in as little as 30 minutes to one hour. Dogs are the only domestic species in which a toxic reaction to xylitol has been seen.
Why is xylitol so toxic to dogs? Xylitol ingestion causes a massive insulin release. The most common effect of xylitol poisoning in dogs is a precipitous drop in blood sugar, which can lead to loss of consciousness and seizures.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar in dogs include:
Treatment for Xylitol Poisoning
If you suspect that your dog may have consumed sugar-free gum or any other product containing xylitol, immediately call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680).
Do not induce vomiting or give anything orally to your dog unless specifically directed to do so by your veterinarian. It is important to get treatment for your dog as quickly as possible. If a dog is already exhibiting signs of hypoglycemia, inducing vomiting could make them worse.
The prognosis for uncomplicated hypoglycemia is good if prompt treatment is obtained. Mild increases in liver enzyme levels usually resolve within a few days. However, xylitol poisoning can be fatal without early veterinary intervention.
At this time, there is no antidote for xylitol toxicity. Your veterinarian will usually monitor your dog for at least 12 hours for blood sugar levels and liver function, and if the dog’s blood sugar remains too low, they may require treatment for 1 to 2 two days with an IV glucose solution.
Dogs certainly have a sweet tooth, and some will gluttonously go for any sweets they can find. That’s why it’s so important to dog-proof your house and ensure that your dog can’t get into potentially harmful foods and products, such as xylitol-containing gum and candy. You’ll also need to keep an eye out for any gum your dog might sneak out of purses, from the trash can, in the car, or off the ground. And make sure any peanut butter you give your dog is xylitol-free and dog-safe.
Sugar-free gum almost always contains xylitol. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether other products contain this ingredient. The labels may list sugar alcohols, but not whether one of them is xylitol. Other sugar alcohols (sorbitol and maltitol) aren’t toxic to dogs. The safest choice is to be wary of any product that has a label designating it as “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.”
Always brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste specifically designated for dogs, and never with one for people. And even when your dog is staring at you imploringly with those big eyes, don’t share your food if there’s a chance it may contain xylitol or another dangerous ingredient.