Xylitol is an alcohol that naturally occurs in small amounts in plant fibers, including fruits and vegetables, and can also be extracted from birch wood and corncobs. It is commonly used as a sweetener but can also be used for medical purposes. Humans with a healthy metabolism naturally produce small quantities of xylitol.
Xylitol as a refined sweetener is frequently used in “sugar-free” candies, chewing gums, and mints as an alternative to regular sugar. It is used in oral care products to promote oral health and prevent tooth decay. Xylitol is similar in taste to sucrose and contains no fructose. It has minor effects on blood sugar and insulin in humans.
Dogs have an adverse reaction after ingesting xylitol and it can be extremely dangerous. “Dog owners should know that xylitol can be toxic to dogs, even when the relatively small amounts from candies are eaten. If your dog eats a product that contains xylitol, it is important to take the dog to a veterinarian immediately.” When dogs absorb xylitol, their bodies interpret the substance as glucose, and immediately begin to produce excessive amounts of insulin.
After a dog ingests xylitol, within 10 to 60 minutes the pancreas releases an abnormally large amount of insulin which can lead to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. A dog may experience symptoms such as instability, shakiness, or seizures. If a dog consumes a significant amount of xylitol, he or she may experience liver failure.
Household Products and Xylitol
Sugar-free chewing gum is the most common culprit of xylitol poisoning. Different brands of gum contain various amounts of xylitol, and a dog’s weight and how much he or she ingests greatly determines if they have ingested a toxic amount.
Xylitol is found in many common household foods and products. It should be a rule to always read the label of any product before giving it to your dog. Some of these items include:
- Chewing gum
- Peanut butter
- Sugar-free candy
- Sugar-free breath mints
- Fruit drinks
- Jellies and jams
- Baked goods
- Sugar-free puddings and Jell-O
- Over the counter vitamins and supplements
Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning
It is crucial to contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Hotline immediately if you are concerned your dog may have ingested xylitol or any toxic substance.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include:
- Lack of coordination or difficulty walking or standing
- Depression or lethargy
- In severe cases, a dog may develop seizures or liver failure. Dogs who develop liver failure often show signs of hypoglycemia.
If you suspect your dog may have ingested xylitol, your veterinarian will immediately begin treatment. If symptoms have not yet appeared, your veterinarian may induce vomiting after determining your dog’s blood glucose levels. If your dog is exhibiting clinical symptoms, treatment may include sugar supplementations, IV fluids, and liver protective drugs.
The Veterinary Centers of America states, “In all cases, your dog will require hospitalization for blood sugar monitoring, dextrose administration, intravenous fluids, liver protectants, and any other supportive care that may be needed.” There is currently no antidote for xylitol poisoning.
Because xylitol is an ingredient found in many common household products, it is essential that you keep these items stored in safe areas out of your dog’s reach. Make sure guests keep any items they may have containing xylitol away from your dog when they are in your home or near your dog.