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Xylitol and Your Dog: A Dangerous Combination

veterinarian dog
  • 31 March 2017
  • Pet Wants

Although many dog owners are careful to keep chocolate, grapes, onions and garlic safely hidden from their dogs, there is an ingredient lurking in many common household products which can pose a potentially deadly health hazard to your dog. In the small town of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, a two-year-old Golden Retriever named Luna got into a package of sugar-free gum containing the ingredient xylitol in 2015. After a bad prognosis for her recovery, the owners decided to put her down, as there was only a small chance she would recover. After chewing through a package of sugar-free gum, Luna became hypoglycemic and succumbed to liver damage thereafter.
What Is Xylitol?
Classified as a sugar alcohol, xylitol is commonly used as a substitute for sugar in many sugar-free products such as chewing gum, toothpaste, chewable vitamins and peanut butter. Its molecular structure is a cross between a sugar and an alcohol molecule. It is used as a sugar substitute, or as a healthier alternative to white sugar because it tastes like sugar and contains 40% fewer calories. For example, while a gram of sugar may contain four calories, that same gram of xylitol contains only 2.4 calories.
Where Does Xylitol Come From?
Xylitol comes in the form of white, crystalline powder, and is chemically derived from birch trees or from plant fibers known as xylan. Xylitol is said to contain empty calories because it is synthetically refined and contains no nutrients. It is also commonly found in low-carb foods because it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in humans.
How Does Xylitol Affect Dogs?
Though xylitol is perfectly safe for human consumption, it is quickly absorbed into a dog’s bloodstream. It only takes 50 mg per pound of body weight to affect dogs. Once there, it triggers a release of insulin, which in turn causes the dog’s blood sugar to rapidly drop below safe levels. Hypoglycemia can occur within ten to 60 minutes of your dog’s ingestion of anything containing xylitol. If left untreated, this can result in severe liver damage and potentially death.
What Are the Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning?
If your dog has become hypoglycemic, they may vomit, exhibit a lack of coordination, struggle to walk or stand, develop tremors, succumb to seizures and sustain liver damage.
What Should I Do If My Dog Has Ingested Xylitol?
As soon as you discover your dog has ingested anything containing xylitol, immediately call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline. Unless you have been instructed by a licensed veterinarian to do so, do not attempt to induce vomiting as this could worsen your dog’s hypoglycemic state.
What Is the Treatment for Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs?
The treatment administered to your dog depends on the severity of the xylitol poisoning and whether or not your dog has begun to exhibit symptoms. In either case, blood will be drawn for tests to assess your dog’s blood sugar levels, as well as the degree to which the liver has been damaged. In mild cases of xylitol poisoning, the veterinarian will induce vomiting to prevent any more xylitol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Xylitol poisoning causes a severe drop in blood sugar and potassium levels in your dog, so your dog’s blood sugar will be closely monitored. They will also receive fluids intravenously, be administered liver protectants which help to prevent liver damage, and be given a naturally-occurring sugar called dextrose to raise your dog’s blood sugar levels.
While the symptoms of xylitol poisoning are severe and potentially deadly, it is very preventable. Ensure all products containing xylitol, such as sugar-free and low-carb foods, toothpaste and vitamins are out of reach or are in pet-proof containers. Only brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste made especially for dogs, and be sure to read all labels before sharing any food with your pet. While xylitol may be a healthier sugar substitute for humans, be sure to keep it out of reach from your furry friend!
For more information on pet nutrition or to try one of our formulas, contact Pet Wants Powell at: (614) 582-8916.