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Do not ever feed your dog sugar-free products such as gum, certain candy, and diet aids.

Dogs are increasingly at risk for potential exposure to these products because they contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol, which damages the dog's liver. One stick of sugar-free gum can contain up to one gram of the substance, and as few as two sticks can lead to poisoning in smaller dogs. Signs can develop in as little as 30 minutes to an hour.

The reason this substance is so toxic is that ingestion causes a massive insulin release. The blood-sugar drop (hypoglycemia) that results can cause weakness, stumbling, collapse, and even seizures. After this stage, signs of liver disease develop. If detected early enough—within two hours—affected dogs can be made to vomit.

If full-blown symptoms of hypoglycemia appear, your dog must be treated by a veterinarian until the animal’s blood glucose is back to normal.

For many small breeds, xylitol poisoning can be fatal without early veterinary intervention. There is no know antidote for xylitol intoxication and the only therapy is supportive. Treatment goals are the correction of hypoglycemia and prevention of developing acute liver failure.

Dogs certainly have a sweet tooth and some will gluttonously and ravenously go for any sweets they can ferret out. We need to dog-proof the house and ensure that dogs cannot get into potentially harmful things like xylitol-containing gum and candy.

A version of this article originally appeared in AKC Family Dog’s “Ask Dr. Kevin” column by Kevin Fitzgerald, DVM

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