Most of us know that chocolate isn’t good for dogs. In fact, there are several foods that dogs should avoid, including grapes, onions, and garlic. Increasingly, another ingredient is finding its way into our homes and it’s extremely dangerous for pets: xylitol.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in minute quantities in foods including plums, berries, corn, oats, and mushrooms. Due to the chemical structure of xylitol, it can bind to sweet receptors on the tongue resulting in a sweet taste, yet it has only two-thirds of the calories of regular sugar. Additionally, xylitol has been shown to have little effect on blood sugar or insulin levels in humans. For these reasons, xylitol has become a popular sugar substitute for diabetics and others following a low carbohydrate (low carb) diet.
Why is Xylitol Dangerous for Dogs?
In humans and dogs, blood sugar levels are controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. When humans digest xylitol, blood sugar levels don’t rise and so insulin levels don’t increase. In dogs, however, xylitol ingestion results in the rapid release of insulin from the pancreas. In response to insulin, the dog’s blood sugar levels drop dangerously low and the animal may become hypoglycemic. If not treated, the hypoglycemia can result in seizures, coma, and even death.
Signs of Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
The signs of xylitol poisoning in dogs can occur rapidly, sometimes in as little as 10-15 minutes. These include:
- Trouble standing or walking
If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, call the Pet Poison Helpline at (800-213-6680). This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While there is no antidote for xylitol poisoning, often quick treatment with IV fluids, sugar supplementation, and liver drugs can help.
What Products Contain Xylitol?
Because xylitol is a low calorie sweetener, it is often sold on its own as a sugar substitute. It can also be found in many food items, such as peanut butter, sugar-free foods, and snacks. Xylitol is present in some over-the-counter medicines such as cough syrups and chewable vitamins. Because xylitol has been shown to inhibit dental plaque and cavity formation, xylitol is used in some toothpastes, dental flosses, mouthwashes, mints, and sugar-free gum.
It’s important to stress that not all sugar alcohols are the same: only xylitol is toxic to dogs. Sugar alcohols such as maltitol, sorbitol, and erythritol are safe for dogs, as are other sugar substitutes. Just because an item is labeled “sugar-free” doesn’t mean it contains xylitol. Check your labels to be sure.
Where Did I Find Xylitol Hiding in My House?
Like many, my family follows a low-carb diet. When I went on a hunt through my house looking for xylitol, I expected to find much more of it than I did. Fortunately, the majority of sugar-free foods in my house did not contain xylitol. However, nearly ALL of the chewing gum in my house contained xylitol. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the most commonly ingested item leading to xylitol poisoning in dogs is sugar-free gum. Since gum is often stored within easy reach of dogs in purses or bags, it is easy for them to find and ingest.
If, like me, you find products containing xylitol in your home, please make sure they are stored safely out of reach of your pets.
Is Xylitol Poisonous to Other Pets?
Xylitol has been shown to increase insulin levels in other animals, including cats, cows, goats, and rabbits. However, the majority of xylitol-related poisoning in pets occurs in dogs.
I hope you take this post with the intent it was written. I know none of us would intentionally hurt our pets. There have been too many sad social media posts about accidental dog poisoning recently and I wanted to do my part to spread the word about how to keep our loved ones safe.
Here are additional resources if you’d like to read more about xylitol toxicity in dogs.