What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a natural substance often substituted as a sweetener due to its low caloric content, glycemic index, and slow absorption rate in the human digestive system. Chemically, xylitol is a sugar alcohol (or polyalcohol) that contains two-thirds the amount of calories than table sugar. This substance is often found in many household items, such as toothpaste, chewing gum, baked goods, jellies, and jams.
Toxicity in Dogs
As harmless as xylitol is to humans, it can be fatal to dogs, even when consumed in small quantities. In dogs, xylitol stimulates a rapid, dose-dependent insulin release that results in hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Blood sugar, or glucose, is the body’s main source of energy, and without it, a hypoglycemic state can result in seizures, extreme lethargy, weakness, and unconsciousness, eventually leading to death.
Dosages as low as 75-100 mg/kg (or 165 mg/lb) have resulted in hypoglycemia in dogs with symptoms developing as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion or delayed up to 12-18 hours after ingestion depending on the substrate containing xylitol. Larger dosages of >500 mg/kg (227 mg/lb) may also cause dogs to develop severe hepatic (liver) insufficiency or failure, with signs of liver injury occurring up to 24-48 hours after ingestion.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Notes:
As stated by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), xylitol toxicity is on the rise. Since xylitol is occurring in more household products, dogs are more likely to come across the substance. As reported by the Pet Poison Helpline, the most common source of xylitol poisoning is sugar-free gum. Depending on the brand of chewing gum and the amount of xylitol per piece of gum, it could take as little as 2 pieces of gum to result in severe hypoglycemia and 10 pieces to result in liver failure at 1g/piece of gum for a 45-pound dog.
Symptoms of Xylitol Toxicity
If you are under the impression your dog consumed xylitol, initial symptoms may include vomiting, tremoring, diarrhea, and weakness or lethargy. Check the ingredients list on the product your dog consumed- if xylitol is listed in the first 3-5 ingredients, it is likely the product contains an amount of xylitol that may be toxic to your dog.
If Your Dog Eats Something Containing Xylitol
Contact your local veterinarian and seek veterinary care as soon as possible. If hypoglycemia develops, your veterinarian may manage it with dextrose administration via IV. Treatment should be continued until the dog can maintain a normal blood glucose level without supplemental dextrose. In cases where larger quantities of xylitol are consumed, and hepatic insufficiency occurs, your veterinarian may monitor your dog’s liver values. However, dogs with signs of liver injury may not recover.
Products to Look Out For
Almost every dog I have ever worked with is a fan of peanut butter. As a dog trainer, I know how versatile peanut butter can be- you can add it to homemade dog treats, smear it on the side of bathtubs, and add it to chew toys for meal time. It is even used as an alternative to pill popping as people tend to hide medications within a dollop of its irresistible spread. Unfortunately, xylitol is becoming a common ingredient in many peanut butter products found on store shelves.
Always make sure to check the ingredients list of any product you purchase for your canine companion to ensure that both you and your furry friend stay happy and healthy!