Is xylitol toxic to dogs?

Some people will be totally unaware of the sugar alternative Xylitol and worryingly some people who use this sugar substitute mat be completely unaware of the non obvious toxicity of this ingredient to dogs.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that is widely used as a sugar substitute. Chemically, it is a sugar alcohol, and found naturally in berries, plums, corn, oats, mushrooms, lettuce, trees, and some other fruits.

Commercially, most xylitol is extracted from corn fiber, birch trees, hardwood trees and other vegetable material. Although it has been used as a sugar substitute for decades, its popularity has increased dramatically in the last few years due to its low glycemic index and dental plaque fighting properties.

Xylitol is made into a white powder that looks and tastes similar to sugar. In the United Kingdom it has been approved for use in oral care products, pharmaceuticals and as a food sweetener. Over recent years, the number and types of products that contain xylitol has greatly increased. Some products that include xylitol are sugar-free gum, candies, breath mints, baked goods, pudding snacks, cough syrup, children's chewable or gummy vitamins and supplements, mouthwash, and toothpaste. Xylitol is also showing up in over-the-counter nasal sprays, laxatives, digestive aids, allergy medicines, and prescription human medications, especially those formulated as disintegrating drug tablets (sleep aids, pain relievers, antipsychotics, etc.) or liquids.

Xylitol is safe for humans, although like most sugar alcohols, it can have a mild laxative effect when eaten in large amounts or when first introduced to a diet. This occurs because xylitol may not be completely digested in the intestines until the digestive system adapts in that person.

"Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs."

Xylitol is very toxic to dogs. Even a small amount of xylitol can cause your dog to go into hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) this will then cause seizures, liver failure or even death in dogs.

Why is xylitol so toxic for a dog?

In humans and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. Xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas in humans. However when your dog eats something containing xylitol, the xylitol is quickly absorbed into their bloodstream, resulting in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This fast release of insulin causes a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which effects the dog within 10-60 minutes of eating the xylitol. Untreated, this hypoglycemia can be life-threatening.

How much xylitol is poisonous to a dog?

The amount of xylitol that can cause hypoglycemia in the dog has been reported between 50 milligrams (mg) of xylitol per pound of body weight (100 mg per kg). The higher the quantity consumed, the greater the risk of liver failure.

The most common source of xylitol poisoning reported comes from sugar-free gum. Some brands of gum contain fairly small amounts of xylitol, and it would take up to 9 pieces of gum to result in severe hypoglycemia in a 45 pound (20 kg) dog, while 45 pieces would need to be ingested to result in liver failure. With other common brands of gum which contain 1 g/piece of gum, only 2 pieces would result in severe hypoglycemia, while 10 pieces can result in liver failure. As there is a large range of xylitol in each different brand and flavor of gum, it is important to identify whether a toxic amount has been ingested.

What should I do if my dog eats something containing xylitol?

If you suspect that your pet has eaten a xylitol-containing product, please contact your veterinarian or a veterinarian that offers an emergency 24/7 clinic if yours is closed.

Do not encourage vomiting or give anything orally to your dog unless directed to do so by your veterinarian. It is important to get treatment for your dog as quickly as possible. As some dogs may already be hypoglycemic, inducing vomiting can make them worse at this stage!

What are the symptoms of xylitol poisoning?

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning develop rapidly, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption. Signs of hypoglycemia may include any or all of the following:

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

  • Lack of coordination or difficulty walking or standing

  • Depression or lethargy

  • Tremors

  • Seizures

  • Coma

In severe cases, the dog may develop seizures or liver failure. Dogs that develop liver failure from xylitol poisoning often show signs of hypoglycemia.

How is xylitol poisoning diagnosed?

A presumptive diagnosis of xylitol poisoning is made if you know or suspect that the dog ate something containing xylitol, and there are symptoms of hypoglycemia. Since toxicity develops rapidly, your veterinarian will not wait for a confirmed diagnosis before beginning treatment.

Is there an antidote for xylitol toxicity?

No. There is no antidote for xylitol toxicity, although treatment with sugar supplementation, IV fluids, and liver protective drugs are beneficial.

If you personally use products containing xylitol, make sure they are stored safely out of reach of your pets. Do not share any food that may contain xylitol with your pets. When brushing your pets’ teeth, only use toothpaste intended for pets, never one made for human use. Keep in mind that there are some veterinary products that contain small amounts of xylitol (e.g., gabapentin medication, mouthwashes). At prescribed doses, these should not result in xylitol poisoning; however, if ingested in large amounts, can potentially result in poisoning.

"If you personally use products containing xylitol,make sure they are stored safely, out of reach of your pets."

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