There has been an increased use of sugar alternatives, such as xylitol, in American households in recent years. Xylitol is not only a sweetener, but also has other human uses including reducing tooth decay, aiding in weight loss, and even helping with osteoporosis. Unfortunately, these health benefits do not translate to our pets. According to the FDA, xylitol is considered to be an emerging toxicity in dogs. The sweetener is dangerous to dogs because it causes severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hepatic necrosis (liver failure).
Xylitol is approved for human use and considered a safe sugar alternative for people. It is commonly used in sugar-free products such as candy, chewing gum, and baked goods and often a component to oral hygiene products like mouthwash and toothpaste. Xylitol can be found in over-the-counter-medications, vitamins, and throat lozenges. Xylitol is also available in bulk for at home baking. Other sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, and stevia are considered safe. Sorbitol and mannitol have no effect on blood sugar, however, can cause diarrhea in dogs.
In dogs, xylitol causes a rapid release of insulin, causing a sharp decrease in blood sugar. It also can alter the electrolytes, potassium and phosphorus. Dogs can become depressed, uncoordinated, and weak. In severe cases, liver failure and coagulopathy (difficulty in blood clotting) can occur. Large amounts of xylitol can cause seizures, coma, and even death.
Symptoms can occur within minutes to days of ingestion of even a small amount (half of a stick of gum). If you think your pet has ingested any product containing xylitol, contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately. In cases of recent ingestion and no symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting. If your pet is already encountering symptoms, hospitalization and monitoring is required.
Remember to keep sugar-free gum or other xylitol containing products out of reach of pets. For more information contact your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control Center.