How many of you have a pack of sugar-free gum in your purse/pocket? Do you pop sugar-free mints? Do you eat sweetened cereals? Chew nicotine gum? Did you know that all of these products contain an ingredient that is potentially deadly to your dog? (The effect on cats is unknown).
This ingredient is xylitol – a sugar alcohol used commonly as a sweetener. You can also find xylitol in many oral-care products and certain baked goods. (NOTE: When brushing your pet’s teeth, use toothpaste labeled for animal-use only.)
Xylitol is a popular ingredient in human products because it has many beneficial properties:
- has 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbohydrates but is as sweet as sugar
- won’t break down when cooked or baked so can be used as a substitute for recipes calling for sugar
- it causes little insulin release and therefore is a good energy source for diabetics
- inhibits bacterial growth which may help prevent respiratory infections and inner ear infections in children
- anticariogenic – it prevents oral bacteria from producing acid that can result in dental cavities
In dogs however, it can have two very severe effects that can be life-threatening:
1) It can cause a sudden profound hypoglycemia (critical drop in blood sugar).
2) It can cause acute hepatic necrosis (liver failure). Studies have not been able to show exactly how it causes liver failure.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has seen an increase in reported xylitol poisonings as the popularity of xylitol use grows.
Absorption in dogs occurs rapidly (within 30 minutes) however clinical signs may be delayed. Clinical signs of hypoglycemia include: vomiting, lethargy, ataxia, collapse, and seizures. This can occur within 30-60 minutes or delayed up to 12 hours. Clinical signs of liver failure are non-specific and can be delayed up to 72 hours – this can include lethargy and vomiting.
Treatment revolves around controlling the vomiting and fluid support to prevent dehydration, and addressing the low blood sugar and low potassium levels.
Prognosis is guarded to poor but may be improved if your dog is treated early enough.
** If you suspect that your dog has eaten any xylitol-containing food, it is critical that you contact us immediately. This is no time to play a guessing game.
Other artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, sucralose) are safe. Although sorbitol and mannitol are also safe, over-ingestion may cause diarrhea.