Xylitol – Sugar Substitute or Poison?

by: Jennifer Oldfield

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is used as a sugar substitute.  It is becoming increasingly common as a substitute in many human products because it does not cause insulin spikes in people and because it has a fraction of the calories of regular sugar.  Although in humans xylitol does not appear to be at all harmful, it is completely the opposite for dogs.  Within 30 mins of ingesting xylitol your pet can go into hypoglycemia (a potentially fatal drop in blood sugar levels) and eventually liver failure.

Where can this product be found?  Check your pockets, your purse, your pantry, even your bathroom.

The most common items containing xylitol are:

  • Candies
  • Gum
  • Mints
  • Sugar-free foods
  • Baked goods

xylitolHowever, more and more items are containing this lethal toxin – chewable vitamins, dental hygiene products, even some prescription medications.  You can also purchase a bag of xylitol to use as a sugar substitute at home.
The amount of xylitol needed to cause problems is pretty low, only 0.1g/kg for hypoglycemia and only 0.5g/kg to cause liver failure.  This means in a 20kg dog (44lbs) as little as only 2 grams of xylitol can cause potentially fatal results.  Part of the problem is that you don’t know exactly how much xylitol is in that package of gum or that sugar free pudding.  It may only take a few pieces of ingested gum for you to lose your faithful companion.

Initial symptoms after ingestion may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of coordination
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

There are some dogs who have shown no initial clinical symptoms in the first 12-24 hours and then seemingly out of the blue end up in severe liver failure.

xylitol-products-300x300“The cause of xylitol-related liver failure in dogs is not well understood, but scientists suspect it has to do with the fact that xylitol and its metabolites deplete adenosine triphosphate stores in the liver. Adenosine triphosphate is a chemical substance that gives cells energy. Without a sufficient amount of this chemical, the cells in the liver die off”.*

What is involved in treatment?

If caught very early (immediately after ingestion) dogs can be made to vomit.  You may do this at home if you can not get to the vet immediately, although you really do need to head to the vet as fast as possible.  Patients are put on fluids and blood glucose is monitored regularly for up to 24-48 hours depending on how the patient is doing. If required medications are given to increase the blood sugar levels.  Approximately 24 hours after ingestion the liver enzymes are checked, medication is given if needed and in either case, the enzymes are checked again approximately a week later.  Due to the regenerative nature of the liver, it is not suspected that there is any long term effect if the patient has a full recovery.

What can you do?

Check the products you have in your home, make sure that items with xylitol are completely out of reach of your dog.  Be certain not to share any sugar-free treats like pudding, with your pet.  If your dog does ingest a product with xylitol the faster you react the better the outcome.  Call your vet as you are heading there to alert them to the emergency.  Do NOT wait.  The sooner your pet receives treatment the better the outcome will be.

Speaking from the heart

I personally have dealt with this in my dogs.  Unknowingly a package of gum was left where my dogs could get at it – in my purse that got set on the floor.  I discovered the chewed up package about 5 mins or less after it happened.  There was at least 16 pieces of gum in the pack.  Although I was fairly certain which dog was the culprit I couldn’t be sure both dogs hadn’t ingested it.  I got the dogs in the car and while I drove in to the clinic, my husband calledahead to let them know I was on my way and what had happened.  The first step was getting them to vomit – my one dog ate 2 pieces, my other dog vomited up a well chewed pile of gum – enough to make our entire treatment room smell like mint.   We immediately put them on fluids and monitored their blood sugar levels overnight.

Finny & Drift

Fortunately due to my fast actions they never had a drastic dip in levels.  The next day their liver enzymes were checked and a week later again they were checked.  Each time the blood work came back in the normal ranges.

I am so thankful that I caught this so quickly.  Had I not discovered the chewed package for half an hour or more I very possibly could have lost one, if not both my dogs. What do I do with xylitol products now?  Personally I don’t buy them.  They are not allowed in my home.  I have a dog that loves to go on the hunt for anything she can find and I am just not willing to take the risk that next time the outcome won’t be so good.

 

Additional Sources:

Xylitol: This Toxic Sugar Substitute Could Be in Your Purse, Pocket or Pantry     *Quote taken from this article

Xylitol Kills Dogs! So Kill the Xylitol in Your Diet

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Jennifer, I have also seen xylitol in some Jamieson brand supplements for humans which people of course use for their pets. Most notably I purchased some melatonin jamieson brand and peeled back the extra label to be sure and almost fainted seeing xylitol listed there and knowing I was minutes away from giving multiple tabs to my dogs. Not sure on the quantity in the tabs, but a stern reminder of how much xylitol is creeping into more things then just Gum, Sure scary that poison could be anywhere in your house lurking and you not know it!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thank you for this added information – you really do need to be extra careful when giving your pet anything that is made for human consumption and not specifically designed for your pets!

      Reply
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