Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs

On a low carb diet?  Planning on sharing some of those low calorie dessert treats with your canine friends?   STOP!   That sugar-free snack you think is good for you and your dog could actually send you to the veterinarian!

For many of us, sharing food with our pets is a daily routine that we both enjoy and cherish, despite the numerous pleas from veterinarians to limit “people food”.   We know that giving “Fluffy” table scraps encourages more begging, can make her obese, and may make her a finicky eater.   However, new research being released now shows that certain “sugar free” treats can actually cause liver failure in your dog, and perhaps even kill him or her.

For many Americans and Europeans, the sugar substitute, Xylitol, has been an amazing development in the fight against tooth decay and in helping diabetics gain better control over their disease.  First used in the 1960s in Europe as a substitute for sucrose when sugar was scarce, Xylitol is now found in many countries across the world.   Most Xylitol is developed from processing corn cobs, wood chips (especially birch), or other plant material.  Although it tastes just as sweet as sucrose, it has about 40% less food energy, making it ideal for “low carb” dieters and for diabetics who need to monitor their intake of carbohydrates.  Most often, Xylitol is found in gums and toothpastes, although many other food items, such as breads and desserts may also contain this sugar substitute.  Documented claims of reducing dental cavities and helping to minimize the severity of ear infections are just some of the positive attributes of Xylitol.  Even the US Military has added sugar free gum containing Xylitol into their Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).   Why wouldn’t we want to share this with our pets?

For years, veterinarians have suspected that Xylitol could make dogs sick, but a recent article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) has actually documented the illness in eight dogs.   5 of the 8 dogs died or were euthanized due to complications stemming from Xylitol ingestion.  Additionally, the ASPCA Poison Control Center has documented an increase in the number of Xylitol-related pet exposures.  It appears that dogs who ingest a large amount of the sugar substitute develop a profound hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, within 30 minutes of consumption.   This decrease in blood sugar is due to a rapid increase in the production of insulin in the dog’s body.  But small amounts of Xylitol do not appear to be any safer.

The JAVMA report states that a 22 lb dog who consumes just 1 gram of Xylitol can generate the rapid insulin production and the associated drop in blood sugar levels.   As a comparison, the popular gum, Trident contains almost 0.20 grams of Xylitol in each stick.  Other foods, such as raspberries and mushrooms can contain up to 1 gram of Xylitol in a single cup of that food.   The JAVMA report continues, stating that it appears the smaller doses can indeed cause liver failure in dogs.

Dogs who consume Xylitol will most often appear to be weak and uncoordinated, due to the sudden decrease in blood sugar levels.   The pet may also start to seizure as potassium levels in the blood start to drop as well.  Due to the severity and quick mechanism of action, anyone who suspects that their pet may have ingested a Xylitol containing product should seek veterinary advice immediately.   Veterinarians warn that there is nothing that can be done to remedy the situation at home, so the best course of action is to get to your family veterinarian as soon as possible.

While it may seem obvious to avoid giving gum, sugar free or not, to your pet, Xylitol can also be found in children’s chewable multi-vitamins, certain cough medications, and even mouthwashes.  Since it has been approved as a food additive for special dietary needs, Xylitol may be found in some candies and mints for diabetics.

Bonding with your pet doesn’t always have to be about sharing treats.  Many of the foods that we would consider to be harmless, such as chocolate or even raisins can actually cause severe illness in our pets.  Now, the sugar substitute Xylitol has been added to that list.  Visit www.MyVNN.com to see a video describing the symptoms of Xylitol toxicity and how you can help keep your dog safe.