By: Pamela Huyck
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline
As many pet owners know, xylitol is toxic to dogs. Even seemingly small amounts of a product with xylitol can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and liver failure. The most well-known source of xylitol is sugar-free gum. Here at Pet Poison Helpline, we keep a close watch out for this often-deadly ingredient and we are seeing it in more and more products (some of us even randomly check ingredient listings of products when we are in stores). In addition to finding xylitol in gum, sugar-free candies, mints, and baked goods, we are now seeing it in many healthcare products. There is even a line of clothing with xylitol embedded in it! Some of the places we have seen xylitol include chewable vitamins, gummy vitamins, lozenges/cough drops, sublingual supplements and medications (over the counter and prescription), liquid medications (over the counter and prescription), breath sprays, medication/supplement sprays, toothpastes, nasal sprays, mouth rinses/washes, essential oil products, cosmetics, and many sugar-free foods and baking ingredients. Given all the places we are seeing xylitol, it is best to read every package before giving your dog the contents or if your dog accidentally gets access to a product.
Typically xylitol will be listed in the “Other ingredients” or “Inactive ingredients” section but I have seen at least one product package where it was not listed there and was instead listed in the “Supplement Facts” box. Some companies will list an approximate amount of xylitol on the packaging, while other companies do not provide that info. It may be listed as “Sugar alcohols” instead of xylitol and if a product has multiple sugar alcohols (e.g., maltitol, xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol) the package may not say how much of each sugar alcohol is in the product as the actual xylitol amount is often considered proprietary. Many companies have been willing to share the xylitol content of their products with us and we maintain a listing of xylitol-containing products we are aware of, along with the amounts (or approximate amounts) of xylitol they contain.
If you discover your pet has ingested a product with xylitol in it, immediately call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. Xylitol can cause signs within 10 minutes of when it is ingested. Initial signs of toxicity include weakness, lethargy, ataxia (incoordination), seizures, vomiting, and an increased respiratory rate. Untreated cases can progress to liver failure over the following one to two days if a high enough dose was ingested. There are treatments and preventatives available for your pet. Preventatives may include inducing vomiting (after a blood glucose level has been checked) and starting the dog on medications to help protect the liver. Treatments include dextrose (a sugar) given with IV fluids, medications to control seizures, anti-vomiting medications, and plasma and vitamin K1 (in case of liver failure). Other medications or treatments may also be provided, depending on the individual pet’s signs. If pets are treated promptly and appropriately they typically recover well.
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep human products up high or in a secured area so pets cannot access them. When you leave the house, make sure your pet is in pet-proofed, secure area to minimize the chances of Fido having himself a smorgasbord of “goodies” while you are gone (not that he would ever do that…).