Many foods that appeal to humans can be risky for dogs and other animals. For example, the sweetener xylitol toxic to dogs. And that’s dangerous because the sweetener, also known as birch sugar, is found in almost everything from cakes and peanut butter to toothpaste and chewing gum.
As a dog owner, there are several things that you should be careful to keep out of your dog’s reach. Unfortunately, unless you carefully read product labels, it’s hard to know whether popular products contain xylitol. The substance that occurs naturally from many plants and plant parts, particularly corn, plums, oats, lettuce, trees, and several fruits.
Most companies extract xylitol from birch trees, corn fiber, and vegetable materials. Although xylitol long has been used as a sugar substitute, its use has increased drastically in the last few decades due to its plaque fighting properties and low glycemic index.
How xylitol is used
After manufacturing, this product appears as a sweet powder. Experts have agreed xylitol is safe for human consumption, which is why it has been approved for use in oral care products and pharmaceuticals.
Xylitol also commonly is used in sugar-free gum, breath mints, baked goods, snacks, toothpaste, and several other products including peanut butter. Because it’s used in many baked foods and other food products, it’s easy for dogs to ingest it.
Why is xylitol toxic to dogs?
Even small amounts of xylitol can cause trouble for dogs. In most cases, after consuming xylitol, dogs can experience seizures, liver failure, low blood sugar, and in some chronic cases, xylitol toxicity causes death.
I know you may be wondering why a substance that is not toxic to humans is extremely toxic to dogs. To understand this, let’s start by explaining how dogs control their blood sugar levels. Just like in humans, the release of insulin produced in the pancreas controls blood sugar levels. In humans, xylitol ingestion does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. This means consuming xylitol rarely causes issues.
But in animals like dogs, xylitol quickly is absorbed in the bloodstream, which causes a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. That can lead to hypoglycemia, an extreme reduction in the amount of blood sugar. What makes xylitol toxic for dogs is the speed with which it acts.
Within an hour of eating xylitol, it can affect your dog’s blood levels. If it’s not treated quickly, the drop in blood sugar levels can be life-threatening.
How much xylitol is too much for dogs?
The amount of xylitol that can cause low blood sugar is ridiculously low. As a matter of fact, this amount has been reported to be about 50 mg per pound of bodyweight. A typical piece of sugar-free gum has 300 to 1500 mg of xylitol, which means it’s dangerous for a dog that weighs less than 20 pounds. A pack of gum or multiple pieces can easily be fatal.
Warning signs my dog ate something with xylitol
There are several signs and symptoms that your dog has ingested something containing any amount of xylitol. The good news is that the symptoms develop rapidly, so you can quickly take your dog to the vet.
Xylitol toxicity symptoms include:
- Depression or even lethargy
- Lack of coordination
In some chronic cases, dogs can develop liver failure or seizures. In most cases, the dogs that develop liver failure show symptoms of low blood sugar.
What should you do if your dog eats something with xylitol?
For most dog owners, the symptoms and signs of xylitol poisoning are confusing. If you think your dog has eaten anything with xylitol, contact a vet. This is actually the reason it’s helpful to use an online vet and live chats with other dog owners to quickly get answers.
If you suspect that your dog has consumed anything containing xylitol, get in touch with your veterinarian or contact the pet poison hotline.
Do not try to induce vomiting unless your veterinarian recommends doing so because that can make the situation worse. It’s vital to get swift treatment from your veterinarian.
Can dogs recover from xylitol poisoning?
With immediate treatment, dogs usually respond well. Treatment options include sugar supplements, liver support therapy, and intravenous fluids.
Dogs that are treated before symptoms develop usually respond well to treatment. Dogs that develop uncomplicated hypoglycemia also respond well to treatment because it can be easily reversed.
The bad news is that some dogs develop other serious complications including liver failure and bleeding. In that case, the prognosis is generally poor.
How is xylitol poisoning treated?
The treatment is broad but it may include the following:
Using intravenous (IV) dextrose for dogs if they are hypoglycemic.
Inducing vomiting to release the remaining undigested food. Make sure your vet skips using charcoal.
Hospitalizing your dog for IV fluids, symptomatic supportive care, and dextrose supplements.
Your vet also will need to carefully monitor your dog’s blood levels. Liver protectants also are vital for dogs that ingest levels that approach liver-toxic amounts.
Lina Ross, M.Phil., D.V.M., works as an online vet. She has special interests in internal medicine and dentistry. Lina has been a medical, veterinary, and science editor for the past five years. Lina loves to garden when she isn’t working and spending time with family and friends. Her favorite animals are dogs. She has a purebred chocolate Lab named Hazel.