Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs: A Deadly Sugar Substitue
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:
- Diabetic snacks (e.g., gums)
- Diabetic foods
- Baked goods
- Toothpastes (in large amounts!)
- Chewable sugar-free multivitamins
- Chewable sugar-free prenatal medications
- Nasal sprays
- Medications (including oral pills over-the-counter like melatonin or prescription medications like gabapentin)
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
- Walking drunk
- Acute collapse
- Trembling or tremoring
- A racing heart rate
- Jaundiced gums
- Black-tarry stool
- Abnormal mentation
- Clotting problems
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.