Hidden Poison: Xylitol and Dogs

I recently read the ASPCA’s list of the toxins most commonly ingested by pets: Announcing the Top Pet Toxins of 2015. I thought it was worth sharing.

I’d rank them differently, though. The top two they list are medications (prescription and over-the-counter). While I don’t doubt that these cause many problems for pets, I also think that most of you, my readers, know to keep your meds out of pets’ reach.

Number four on the ASPCA list is where I want to focus this post — in particular, an item included under number four: Xylitol.

Xylitol is a sweetener. According to xylitol’s official website, “Xylitol is a naturally occurring carbohydrate, that looks and tastes just like regular table sugar. It is a natural sweetener that can be extracted from any woody fibrous plant material.” Who knew?

It’s perfectly safe (as far as we know …) for humans. The problem is, xylitol is highly toxic to dogs. Even a small amount can cause liver toxicity or severe hypoglycemia. It triggers the body to release insulin. Only a tiny amount — a tenth of a gram per kilo of dog’s body weight (a 60-lb. golden, Jana for instance, weighs about 27 kilos) can cause severe hypoglycemia in a dog. Keep in mind that one packet of the sweetener, what you might add to your morning coffee, has more than a gram.

When it was first introduced, xylitol showed up in things like toothpaste and mouthwash. Then it became common in mints and chewing gum — things that most people don’t share with their dogs. Now, though, xylitol has taken off as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes. It is appearing in baked goods, ice cream, even peanut butter. I give my dogs peanut butter every time one of them needs a pill (do you seriously think I can give the pill recipient some peanut butter and not give any to the other dog?). I buy natural, nothing-added-but-salt peanut butter, but … hearing that xylitol might be in peanut butter really brought home to me how essential it is to check the ingredients list, especially on anything that is “sugar free.”

Xylitol is even more dangerous than chocolate, according to this detailed article on Preventive Vet’s website: “Xylitol: The ‘sugar-free’ sweetener your dog NEEDS you to know about.” The article provides illustrations showing how much gum or sweetener powder would add up to a dangerous dose for different-sized dogs. Preventive Vet also has this list of grocery products that contain xylitol.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination, lethargy, tremors and seizures. However, your dog’s chances of recovery are much better if you start treatment before he shows symptoms, so if you suspect that your dog ate something with xylitol, get to a vet immediately.

Better than treatment, of course, is prevention. Read the labels of products you buy and keep anything with xylitol out of your dog’s reach. If your dog sometimes gets into your purse or that niche in the car where you keep a pack of gum, don’t take chances; buy products that don’t have xylitol.