It's well known that chocolate is toxic to dogs, but not everyone is aware that xylitol is toxic to dogs. In an ongoing survey by Preventative Vet (2015), over 50 percent of respondents weren't aware of xylitol or the danger it poses to dogs. In many cases, this sweetener can be even more toxic than chocolate (the picture above shows a dangerous amount of dark chocolate compared to the number of xylitol-containing sugar free gum pieces that could be deadly).
Xylitol is so toxic to dogs that symptoms can show up within 10 minutes of ingestion. This includes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, vomiting, and rapid breathing. Even small amounts can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver failure. Fortunately dogs can recover if treated promptly.
Why is Xylitol Dangerous to Dogs?
The problem is so common, the FDA is reminding pet parents of the issue and created a helpful video to address the problem (see below). On their website, they state "In both people and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas.This rapid release of insulin may result in a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an effect that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the xylitol. Untreated, this hypoglycemia can quickly be life-threatening."
Xylitol is an ingredient in sugar-free gum so this has led me to be really careful about leaving packs of gum in handbags I leave around the house. I also keep gum packs (and chocolate) in a secure plastic bin in my pantry, just to be sure no hungry dogs get into the dangerous treats.
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But I recently discovered that many more household products contain xylitol. In addition to other edible goods, like cookies, cough drops, and medications, the ingredient has been popping up in toothpaste, cosmetics, and mouthwash. The Pet Poison Hotline even found a line of clothing with xylitol embedded in it!
To make things worse, I recently learned that xylitol is being included in some specialty brands of peanut butter. This is alarming because many people use peanut butter to fill Kongs or to make dog treats. Currently no major brand is affected, but this highlights the need to be vigilant in checking the ingredients on the products we use. It's important to note that xylitol can be listed on labels as sugar alcohols, which encompasses many different sugar alcohols, including xylitol.
Clearly it's important to check the ingredients of the products you have lying around the house and keep them away from your pets. Xylitol is typically listed in the “Other ingredients” or “Inactive ingredients” section, but it's also been seen in the “Supplement Facts” box, so make sure you read the package closely. Sometimes the ingredients won't be listed as xylitol, but may be included as “sugar alcohols,” which encompasses many different sugar alcohols, like xylitol.
If your pet has ingested a product with xylitol in it, immediately call a veterinarian. The ingredient is so toxic that symptoms can show up within 10 minutes of ingestion. This includes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, vomiting, and rapid breathing. Fortunately dogs can recover if treated promptly.
This just shows how important it is to know what's in the products in your home.