A recent study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has shown that xylitol – a common sweetener found in sugarless gum and various hygiene products – can prove fatal if ingested by dogs.
The problem: When dogs consume something with xylitol in it, the xylitol causes a “potent release of insulin from the pancreas,” according to the FDA.
This will drop your dog’s blood sugar level to dangerous levels, resulting in symptoms such as vomiting, general weakness, staggering, loss of coordination, collapse and seizures.
In humans, xylitol does not stimulate this insulin release from the pancreas.
Xylitol is found in foods such as sugar-free gum, various sugar-free candies such as mints and chocolate bars, baked goods, cough syrup, children’s and adult chewable vitamins, mouthwash, some peanut butters and toothpaste.
What can you do to prevent your dog from eating xylitol?
Keep products with xylitol well out of the reach of your dog.
If you use peanut butter to hide pills, make sure to check the label and ensure it does not contain xylitol. Most common peanut butter brands in the supermarket do not contain the sweetener; typically, only specialty peanut butters contain it.
Sarah Pratt, a veterinarian at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital of Wichita, said the clinic has treated a few presumptive cases of xylitol poisoning but cannot confirm treating an officially diagnosed case.
“Many times, of course, owners aren’t aware of what the animal might have gotten ahold of,” she said. “The big one here is sugar-free gum, because people keep it in the purses, drop it on the floor.”
Pratt said treatment for xylitol poisoning is “pretty intensive,” requiring multiple days in the clinic.
“The cost of treatment often becomes an issue,” she said. “There’s no direct antidote – you’re basically continually monitoring these guys, trying to get enough dextrose, sucrose in them to support life.”
The prognosis for dogs who have ingested xylitol is “fair to guarded, with prompt aggressive medical therapy,” Pratt said.
“The big nasty is it can affect the liver and we can get into liver failure,” Pratt said. “If we do see effects in the liver itself, that prognosis is guarded.”