Xylitol is Dangerous for Dogs: Paws Off!
Xylitol is a popular sugar-substitute for people watching their weight and for those monitoring their diabetes. There are more companies that have started using xylitol in their "skinny" products such as gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, medicines, peanut butter, ice cream, and much more. Your beloved canine NEEDS you to know about xylitol and how harmful and deadly it can be for them if ingested. Let's put things into perspective.
You just got a new puppy, a cute little thing named Pepper. Pepper loves to eat anything he can get to; your shoes, your socks, your purse. He even manages to open cabinets and drawers. He LOVES everything! Like many dog owners, you've heard that chocolate can be harmful to dogs, especially puppies and those smaller in size and weight. But what you didn't know is that that new pack of sugar-free gum in your handbag is deadly to your new furry companion.
Sugar-free gum may contain xylitol, a common sugar substitute found in "sugar-free" products. Xylitol is known as a sugar-alcohol and while it is practically harmless to humans, it has deadly effects on dogs and other household pets.
If you think your dog or other pet has ingested food or other products containing xylitol call your vet, pet emergency clinic, vet hospital, and/or poison control right away.
Over the past decade, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received many reports of dogs being poisoned after ingesting a product containing xylitol. Many of these reported cases including the ingestion of chewing gum or "sugar-free" ice cream.
You may or may not have heard of stories online, on social media, or from a friend or coworker of the sudden death of a pet after eating products/foods containing xylitol. If this is your first time hearing of this, please share this blog and educate other pet owners before something unthinkable happens to their family pet.
Other Foods that Contain Xylitol
Though it may be the most popular, gum is not the only food product that contains xylitol. The popularity of the low-calorie sugar-substitute is constantly growing, and the list of products that contain xylitol is getting longer every day. It's also often used to sweeten sugar-free mints, chocolate snacks, and candy. Other products that may contain xylitol include (but are not limited to):
- baked goods
- breath mints
- children's and adult's chewable vitamins
- cough syrup
- peanut butter
- ice cream and frozen yogurt
- dietary supplements
- over-the-counter medicines
- sugar-free desserts
Examples of baked goods that may contain xylitol include cake, muffins, pies, and potentially any other recipe that calls for sugar. Foods containing xylitol are especially popular in homes of people with diabetes, this is because xylitol is a sugar substitute with a very low calorie count index. Since xylitol is not harsh on teeth, some dentists even recommend xylitol-containing gum for children and these products could easily end up within a dog's reach. It is a good idea to double-check ingredient labels on all products that enter your home and keep those that do contain xylitol out of sight and reach of your dog.
For a complete list of products that may contain xylitol, check here.
Why is Xylitol Harmless to Humans but Dangerous to Dogs?
The pancreas controls the level of blood sugar by releasing insulin, the same in both people and dogs. For people, xylitol does not stimulate the pancreas to release insulin. However, the same does not apply to dogs. When a dog eats something containing xylitol, the xylitol is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream and could result in the release of insulin.
This rapid release of insulin can result in a drastic decrease in the level of blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia. This can occur anytime between 10 to 60 minutes of digesting the xylitol. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can be life-threatening.
How Much Xylitol is Poisonous to Dogs?
It takes just the smallest amount of xylitol to cause a dangerous reaction in dogs. Because xylitol is such a strong stimulator of insulin release in fogs, it takes only 0.1g/kg to cause a major drop in blood sugar. Xylitol can cause a deadly drop in blood sugar levels in your dog in as little as 30 minutes.
If a dog ingests just 0.5g/kg of xylitol, they are at risk of acute hepatic necrosis, which is sudden liver death and is extremely debilitating and could be fatal.
So what do these dosages amount to for a dog?
The dosage of 0.1g/kg and 0.5 g/kg are the weight of xylitol (in this case), related to body weight (a dog's weight). Below is an image from Preventative Vet showing the size of toxic doses of xylitol in a 10, 30, and 70 pound dog.
While looking at these relatively small piles of xylitol that are actually big enough to have severe effects on your dog, keep in mind that the sugar packet that you put in your coffee in the morning typically weighs 1 gram, which is more than twice the weight it would take to cause hypoglycemia in a 10lb dog.
Because it is not currently required for a company to include exactly how much xylitol is in their product, it is better to play it safe. It's better to assume that there could be a lethal amount and keep ANY product containing xylitol far out of your dog's reach.
So What Symptoms Should You Look For?
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs may include vomiting, followed by common symptoms of sudden low blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures.
If you are noticing any of these symptoms or suspect that your dog has eaten xylitol take them to your local vet or emergency animal hospital immediately.
How to Avoid Xylitol Poisoning in Your Dog
Check the labels of all products that enter your home, better yet, check them before you buy them. If it is something you can't easily put out-of-reach of your dog, it's probably best to find a substitute. Double-check ingredients on products that specifically advertise being sugar-free or low-sugar. It has also been reported that some companies that produce pet beds and accessories use xylitol in the fabric of their products, as xylitol has a cooling effect. If your dog chews on the fabric and ingests it, it's likely that they could have had a lethal dose of xylitol. In addition to these suggestions, as a dog owner you should:
- keep products containing xylitol well out of your dog's reach
- only use pet toothpaste for pets, never human toothpaste
- if you give peanut butter to your dog as a treat or to hide pills, check the label for xylitol first
How Common is Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs?
Xylitol poisoning in dogs is a lot more common than you may think, which is all the more reason to raise awareness for the deadly effects of xylitol and dogs.
Veterinary Toxicologist, Dr. Erik Dunayer, of the ASPCA wrote a paper in 2004 predicting that "with the increased appearance of xylitol-sweetened products in the US, xylitol toxicosis in dogs may become more common." Sadly, Dr. Dunayer was right. Another Veterinary Toxicologist Tina Wismer, who is also the Medical Director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), reported that when they first began keeping count of the number of xylitol poisoning calls they received, which was back in 2004, they logged 201 cases. This translates to one case every two days. In 2014, the number of xylitol-related calls reached 3,727. Which was an average of over 10 calls per day regarding dogs being poisoned and/or killed by xylitol every day.
In July of 2019, the ASPCA released a graph showing the recorded number of calls that had reported either a xylitol poisoning or death related to xylitol ingestion in dogs. In 2018, the number of calls related to xylitol to the ASPCA-APCC was a staggering 6,760, an average of over 18 calls per day.
Xylitol poses such a big threat to dogs that the FDA issued a warning for pet owners about the dangers back in 2011. They updated the warning in 2016, and then again in 2019.
If these numbers don't scare you enough to take the time to check your labels and alert your fellow pet owners, what will? There needs to be more education and awareness surrounding this issue. We urge you to do your part in keeping the pets in your life safe, as well as make others aware of the dangers of xylitol for pets.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA-APCC): 1-888-426-4435 The ASPCA-APCC also has a smartphone app.
Pet Poison Helpline (PPH): 1-800-213-6680 The PPH also has a smartphone app.