Not So Sweet: The Dangers of the Sweetener, Xylitol
Xylitol, a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, is commonly found in a wide range of food and non-food products including sugar-free foods, drinks, snacks, supplements, oral hygiene products, gums, cosmetics, hair care products, sunscreens/gels and more. While it may benefit people in their sugar-free ways, it is the bane of pets, especially dogs – as it is extremely toxic.
Xylitol ranks among the top 10 poisons reported by the Pet Poison Helpline each year, yet many people are unaware of this dangerous ingredient. Have you heard about xylitol? The team at Redwood Veterinary Hospital is here to explain why this substance should be kept away from your four-legged friend.
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is an alternative sweetener used in, among other things, sugar-free food and drink products. While it is well tolerated in many species, some species-especially dogs-are very sensitive to it. This is because it affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin and sugar levels as well as possibly harm the liver. When a dog eats xylitol, it causes insulin to be released from the pancreas at a rapid rate. This can ultimately lead to a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels. How xylitol causes liver damage is not well understood.
Xylitol is becoming increasingly popular as people try and control their sugar intake and as a response to an increase in Type 2 Diabetes. Products containing xylitol are many, and can include:
- Chewing gum
- Breath mints
- Baked goods
- Peanut and other nut butters
- Drink powders or liquids
- Sugar-free desserts
- Ketsup and barbecue sauce
- Cough syrup
- Lip balm
- Over-the-counter medicines
- Pancake syrup
The list goes on. In fact, there are over 800 known products on the market containing xylitol.
What Are the Symptoms of Xylitol Toxicity
Most symptoms (see below) are seen within 30-60 minutes after a dog has ingested a xylitol containing product, though in some cases, especially if gum is ingested, the onset of symptoms can be delayed several hours.
- Vomiting and sometimes diarrhea
- Racing heart
- Yellowing of eyes and skin
If your pet has ingested something containing xylitol or has developed these symptoms, call us or the nearest emergency veterinary service immediately. This is a serious emergency that can lead to death if not treated quickly.
It’s always valuable to know how much your pet ingested. This allows us to estimate your pet’s level of exposure based on body weight. Retain and bring with you any packaging of the product ingested.
Treating xylitol poisoning often includes:
- If it’s been a short time since ingestion, your dog is stable, and it’s safe to do so, inducing vomiting can help reduce that amount of xylitol your dog is exposed to.
- Monitoring blood sugar levels.
- Possible IV fluid therapy to maintain normal blood sugar levels if your pet is hypoglycemic.
- Monitoring blood tests (liver enzymes, electrolytes, etc.)
- Liver supportive treatment
Xylitol is a scary toxin for dogs and products containing xylitol need to be carefully stored away from your pet. Go through all of your sugar-free products and make sure they never get into your pet’s reach, or consider switching to products without xylitol.