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Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs: A Deadly Sugar Substitue

Posted January 31, 2014 in Dog Toxins & Poisons

With America on a weight-loss craze, everything nowadays is sugar-free. While this is likely good for you, it’s potentially very dangerous for your dog.

The problem is that many sugar-free products contain xylitol. So what exactly is this scary sounding chemical (pronounced zi-li-tol)? Xylitol is a sugar-free substance used as a sugar substitute. It’s commonly called a “sugar alcohol,” and is naturally found in certain fruit (in small amounts). Xylitol has gained recent popularity because it is sugar-free, reducing caloric intake for humans. It also is thought to protect cavities in people.

Xylitol is commonly found in many household products including the following:

As you can see from this list, xylitol is in just about everything now.

While it’s completely safe for humans, it results in a severe insulin release when ingested by non-primate species (e.g., dogs!). Acute poisoning will occur in dogs, resulting in two main syndromes: hypoglycemia (i.e., a life-threateningly low blood sugar) and acute hepatic necrosis (i.e., severe liver failure).

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include the following:

  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Depression
  • Walking drunk
  • Acute collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling or tremoring
  • Seizures
  • A racing heart rate
  • Jaundiced gums
  • Black-tarry stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Bruising
  • Abnormal mentation
  • Clotting problems
  • Death

If you think your dog was accidentally poisoned by a sugar-free product, first, stay calm! Next, read the ingredients to see if the product contained xylitol. The general rule is that if xylitol is listed in the first 3-5 ingredients (typically in order of the amount that they appear in the food or product), it is going to be poisonous!*

*If your dog does get into something sugar-free, always check the ingredient list. Note that other sound-a-likes like sorbitol, maltitol, and erythritol are not poisonous to dogs. Likewise, other sugar-free products such as stevia, saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, etc. are also not poisonous to dogs. If your dog gets into one of these other sound-a-likes, it’s not poisonous. No need to worry, as long as you’re positive there’s no xylitol!

With xylitol poisoning, it is imperative to calculate whether a toxic dose has been ingested. In dogs, doses > 0.1 g/kg are considered toxic and result in profound, sudden problems. Higher doses (> 0.5 g/kg)

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.