Updated: Feb 15, 2019
Xylitol – What is It and Where is it found?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that is commonly used as a sugar substitute. In nature it can be found in some fruits, grains, vegetables and trees.
The use of xylitol has increased dramatically in recent years. It looks and tastes like sugar, is as sweet as sucrose, but contains only a little over half the calories. Manufacturers are using it more and more, in products like sugar-free gums and mints, drink powders, cough drops, instant coffee, condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce, vitamins, candy, toothpaste, baked goods and even peanut butter. It’s as if xylitol is everywhere now!
What’s the Problem?
Well, what’s the problem with that, you ask? The problem is that, while xylitol is OK for humans and most other mammals, it is EXTREMELY toxic to your dog! Even small amounts can be lethal.
When a dog eats something containing xylitol, the pancreas reacts by releasing insulin. This results in a rapid (10-60 minutes) and profound drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Untreated, this condition can become life threatening, with seizures, liver failure and eventually death. The higher the dose ingested, the greater the risk. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual dosages of xylitol over 34 mg/lb can cause hypoglycemia and dosages over 227 mg/lb may cause severe liver failure.
Signs and Symptoms:
Signs can develop quickly (within 30 minutes) but can be delayed as much as 12-18 hours if the product ingested slows the absorption rate (gum products can do this). Symptoms of low blood sugar can include vomiting, weakness, wobbling, depression, seizures and even coma. Left untreated, liver injury can begin to occur within 24-48 hours after ingestion.
There is no antidote for xylitol poisoning. The prognosis is good if the dose ingested was small and treatment was sought promptly. The liver is one organ that with a little help can heal itself. Mild damage can resolve within a few days. But severe damage with large increases in liver enzymes, bleeding disorders, and signs of liver failure are very poor prognostic factors. In one study it was estimated that over half of dogs with signs of liver failure died despite aggressive veterinary care!
What to Do If you Suspect Your Pet Has Ingested Xylitol
Seek help immediately. If the ingestion happened recently, your veterinarian can induce vomiting and hopefully expel the stomach contents before the xylitol can be absorbed into the bloodstream. If clinical signs have already developed, your pet will need to be hospitalized and blood glucose and liver values monitored closely. With prompt treatment your little one’s chances of recovery are greatly enhanced.
But the best treatment of all is prevention. Search all product labels for xylitol and be sure that any product containing it is far from the reach of your inquisitive furry friend. Be aware that the pack of gum in your purse, or the candy or vitamin that you just put out for your child may contain xylitol. If your pet is as inquisitive as mine, they may try to snarf that treat up! And best of all, consider abstaining from the purchase of any xylitol-containing product. It may just be better to avoid the risk altogether.
If you suspect your pet has ingested xylitol, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) immediately.