XYLITOL…… OH HELP!
By Jo Marshall, CVT, NREMT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist
I am here to tell you, xylitol kills dogs! Let’s get the word out! Tell your friends with dogs, your family that have dogs, the neighbor down the street walking their dog, just get the word out!
Not a week goes by where I don’t have someone call me that had no idea that xylitol is a very serious and potentially life-threatening toxicity to their dog. In low doses, it causes your dog’s blood sugar to drop rapidly and in higher doses, it results in acute liver failure! Both of these scenarios, if left untreated, are life-threatening.
Often, xylitol is one of the hidden toxicities that we have to work through when a pet owner calls us. The exposure may be a multi-vitamin, but when we are digging into the ingredients, we find that there is xylitol hidden in the product as a sweetener. Many times the vitamins or minerals are not a concern at all, but the xylitol is a big problem and the pet ends up needing emergency veterinary care.
Many people are aware of the fact that xylitol has been an ingredient in sugar-free gums and mints for a long time. but we continue to find something new every day that contains xylitol. So, let’s learn a little about xylitol and why it has become so prevalent in products in recent years and is now a popular addition to many everyday products.
First off, xylitol is a sweetener, a naturally occurring sugar that has a low glycemic index. That means it is a great product for individuals with diabetes or those who wish to decrease their sugar intake. It is used in dental products because it has properties that prevent dental decay. It provides a cooling sensation to oral and nasal cavities. It prevents mold and fermentation and it helps retain moisture.
Now let’s go over the products that may contain xylitol. The most common, of course, are sugar-free gums and mints. We see it in candies and dental products such as dry mouth products, toothpastes and oral rinses. It can also appear in vitamins, supplements, nasal sprays, baked goods, baking blends and 100% xylitol for baking, pudding and gelatin cups, etc., etc. The list is never ending and not a week goes by where we don’t find a new product containing xylitol!
How is xylitol listed on product labels? It may say xylitol but it may also be listed as sugar alcohols. Unless it tells us which sugar alcohol it is we have to assume it is xylitol. The other sugar alcohols are sorbitol and maltitol. These sugar alcohols do not cause toxicity in dogs. Anything that is labeled as sugar-free, all natural and sugar-free products, chewable supplements or no sugars added products warrant a second look at the label.
How serious is xylitol toxicity? It can drop blood sugar levels right down to levels that are not compatible with life in 30 to 90 minutes and as I previously mentioned, we can see liver failure. The xylitol baking sugar substitute is 100% xylitol so let’s use this as an example of how toxic it is. If we took 1 cup of this product, it is enough to cause hypoglycemia in 70 dogs weighing 60 pounds each. Now imagine if your 60 pound Labrador got into the cabinet with your baking products and ingested the entire bag of it! That is scary and very deadly!
My goal here was not to scare you but rather to educate you on the seriousness of xylitol ingestions by dogs. We need to learn to read the labels of the products that we bring into our homes and then keep them where they are safe from the dog getting to them.
But if the worst should happen and your dog does find the forbidden xylitol stash, we are here to help and guide you in what is needed to care for your pet and keep them healthy!