Westend Veterinary Hospital
Xylitol - the deadly product in your purse or pantry that can kill your dog!
With the start of a new year, we are all looking for those ways to attain our new year's resolutions. For many of us, that means that we are watching what we eat and often that includes looking for sugar alternatives. What most of us don’t know is that while some of these alternatives are great for us, they can be deadly for our pets. The one I specifically would like to write about today is Xylitol. Xylitol is more deadly to dogs than chocolate, yet many of us have no idea!! In fact, if you look through your purse, medicine cabinet, bathroom and even pantry right now, you may find it there! Xylitol is now found in nasal sprays, over the counter sleep aids, multi-vitamins, prescription medication, antacids, stool softeners, gums and even baking products.
So, what is Xylitol? It is a natural occurring sugar alcohol that is used as a sugar substitute. It has become more popular over the last few years as it has a sweet taste and contains plaque fighting properties, making it a popular choice for chewing gum, breath mints and dental products such as mouthwash and toothpaste. Over the past couple of years, there has even been talk about it starting to appear in peanut butter!! In fact, some specialty peanut and nut butters in the United States already contain xylitol (Nuts’n More, Krush Nutrition, P-28 Food).
So why should you be aware of Xylitol? Like I mentioned earlier, xylitol is more toxic than chocolate! Let’s put this into perspective…certain brands of gum contain 1g of xylitol/piece, so for a 20kg dog, that means that it would only take 2 pieces of gum to cause severe hypoglycemia, and only 10 pieces to cause liver failure! What further compounds the problem with xylitol is that it is often considered a proprietary ingredient, so the quantity is not listed on the package label. In general, the ingredients in products are listed in the order of the amount found in the largest quantities, and if xylitol is in the top three, then extreme caution should be taken. However, for drugs & dietary supplements there are completely different regulations. In those, xylitol is considered an inactive or other ingredient and therefore is not required to be listed in order of predominance and in fact is often listed alphabetically, putting it at the bottom of the list.
How does Xylitol work? In humans, blood sugar levels are regulated by insulin released from the pancreas. Xylitol does not stimulate the release of the insulin in humans, however, in dogs, xylitol releases insulin causing a rapid decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which can be life-threatening. This drop can occur as fast as 10-60 minutes after the xylitol is ingested, however in some patients, this may not be seen for up to 12 hours after ingestion. Clinical signs include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, stumbling, depression, tremors, seizures and coma.
What to do if your dog accidentally ingested some products containing xylitol? There is only one thing to do - get them to a veterinary clinic immediately! While there is no antidote, rapid treatment with sugar supplementation, IV fluids and potentially liver protectants are highly recommended. If no clinical signs have developed and the ingestion is recent. Inducing vomiting can be considered to prevent further absorption.
Now that you know about this potential danger, I highly encourage you to flip over that pack of sugar free gum and read the ingredient list; ensure that the next time you buy peanut butter that you take the time to make sure there is no xylitol in it, and make sure you are only using toothpaste intended for pets. Please help us spread awareness about the deadliness of xylitol - it may save a pet’s life!