Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is quickly gaining popularity in the US as a sugar substitute due to its tooth- and diabetic-friendly nature. Xylitol can be found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including berries, corn husks, mushrooms, and oats, or extracted from corn fiber, corn, plums, and raspberries. Xylitol can most commonly be found in chewing gum, mouthwashes, and toothpaste, and use has increased in foods containing sugar like cookie mixes, Jell-O, energy bars, candies, and even ice cream.
Why is Xylitol Dangerous for Dogs?
While Xylitol might be beneficial for people, especially diabetics, the same is not true for our canine companions. Dogs metabolize Xylitol in a very different way from humans, and small doses of Xylitol can send your dog’s blood sugar level to a life-threateningly low level in just minutes after ingestion. The symptoms of low blood sugar in dogs include loss of coordination, depression, collapse, and seizures, which can be evident as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion.
The ingestion of very high doses of Xylitol (greater than 500 – 1000 mg/kg bwt) has also been implicated in liver failure. Liver failure will follow within 12 to 24 hours of the initial exposure to the toxic substance, and most often leads to death in dogs. To put into perspective just how deadly Xylitol can be to dogs – three pieces of Xylitol-sweetened sugar-free gum can kill a 20 pound dog.
What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Xylitol?
If you suspect your dog has eaten something containing Xylitol, seek veterinary help immediately. Even if your only evidence is an empty Jell-O bowl or a few scattered gum wrappers, it is better to be safe than sorry. Time is of the essence in situations of Xylitol ingestion, and you will want to get your dog to the vet as quickly as possible, preferably within 1-2 hours after the suspected ingestion. Vomiting should not be induced unless you have caught your dog in the act of eating, or the veterinarian recommends it.
Once you get your pet to the veterinary hospital, the vet will check his blood sugar level and administer glucose via an IV. Cases caught early have the best prognosis, and those that are caught within the first few hours have a high rate of recovery.