Xylitol – the deadly product in your purse or pantry that can kill your dog!

It’s that time of year again – all of the busyness of the holiday season is coming to a close as we look forward to a new year. And while we reflect on another year passed, some of us may be considering some New Years Resolutions for ourselves.

Hiking Pups

Maggie and Heidi have a New Years Resolution to do more hiking!

According to Statistic Brain, the most common resolution is to lose weight and/or eat healthier. Many people turn to food alternatives to accomplish these goals, which can be great for us humans, but can actually be dangerous (and even deadly!) for our pets. The one I specifically would like to write about today is xylitol, which is a lower calorie alternative to white table sugar that is often used as a sugar substitute in baking or beverages. It can also be found in nasal sprays, over the counter sleep aids, multi-vitamins, prescription medications, antacids, stool softeners and sugar-free chewing gum. I bet if you were to go look in your purse, pantry or medicine cabinet right now, you would likely find a product listing xylitol as an ingredient.

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. It has become more popular over the last few years as it has a sweet taste and also contains plaque fighting properties, making it a popular choice for chewing gum, breath mints and dental products such as mouthwash and toothpaste. It has even been added to some brands of specialty nut and peanut butters!

Nuts 'N More Peanut Butter

Xylitol listed as a natural sweetner on the label of Nuts ‘N More Peanut Butter

Risks of Xylitol Toxicity  

As I mentioned earlier, xylitol is even more toxic to dogs than chocolate is. Ingestion is often fatal and that is very scary! To put this into perspective, some brands of chewing gum contain 1g of xylitol per piece. That means that it would only take 2 pieces of gum to cause severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in a medium size dog weighing about 20 kgs. If that same dog ate 10 or more pieces, it could go into complete liver failure!

The other concern with xylitol is that it can be a very complicated ingredient. It is often considered a proprietary ingredient so the quantity is not listed on the package label. Typically, a product’s ingredients are listed in order of the greatest amount to the least. However, drug and dietary supplements have completely different regulations from food products. In those, xylitol is considered an “inactive” or “other” ingredient and therefore is not required to be listed in order of predominance, and, in fact, is often listed alphabetically – putting it at the bottom of the list.

Forest Pup

Rennik, a 50-lb Duck Tolling Retriever, could be in serious trouble if he ate even a few pieces of sugar-free gum containing xylitol.

Affects of Xylitol

In humans, blood sugar levels are regulated by insulin released from the pancreas. Xylitol does not stimulate the release of the insulin in humans, so it is a very safe alternative to sugar for most people, including diabetics. In dogs, however, xylitol has the opposite affect and does stimulates the release of insulin, which causes a rapid decrease in blood sugar levels that can be life-threatening. This drop in blood sugar can occur as fast as 10-60 minutes after the xylitol is ingested, but in some patients it may not be seen for up to 12 hours after ingestion. Clinical signs of xylitol ingestion include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, stumbling, depression, tremors, seizures and coma.

Accidental Xylitol Ingestion

If your dog ingests a product containing xylitol, there is only one thing to do – get them to a veterinary clinic immediately! While there is no antidote, rapid treatment with sugar supplementation, IV fluids and liver protectants are highly recommended. If no clinical signs have developed and the ingestion is recent, inducing vomiting can be considered to prevent further absorption.

Now that you know about this potential danger, I highly encourage you to flip over that pack of sugar-free gum and read the ingredient list; ensure that the next time you buy peanut butter that you take the time to make sure there is no xylitol in it, and make sure you are only using toothpaste intended for pets.  Please help us spread awareness about the deadliness of xylitol – it may save a pets life!

Xylitol Products

These are all products that contain xylitol – how many do you have in your household right now?

Dogs and cats are not small humans…

…and other pet toxin facts. An informative blog from Dr. Judith da Costa.

Recently I attended a lecture on pet poisons so I decided to write a blog about it. Most of the time when pets come into contact with toxins it is accidental. Occasionally however, well-meaning owners give or apply toxins to their pets. Unfortunately things that are safe, or even considered healthy for us, can be dangerous (even fatal!) to our pets. I will cover a small, random selection of these.

Grapes, Raisins and Currants

In the past several years information has come out about the toxic properties of grapes, raisins and some currants when eaten by dogs. The side effects caused by eating the above are; vomiting, anorexia, lethargy and diarrhea. Unfortunately, eating grapes, raisin and certain types of currants can cause acute renal failure leading to the death of the dog. Why this happens is unknown. The specific toxin has yet to be identified. Not all dogs are affected. At this time we have no way of knowing which dogs will be affected. Decontamination (inducing vomiting), IV fluids and supportive care are the current treatment recommendations. Blood work is done to determine the effect the grapes, raisins or currants have had on the kidneys.

Acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol)

Another pet toxin to be concerned about is acetaminophen. So there is no confusion I will be very blunt. Acetaminophen is deadly to cats! Acetaminophen is the generic name for this human medication. Trades names include Tylenol and Paracetamol. Acetaminophen is also toxic to dogs. Most pharmacist don’t know that acetaminophen is toxic to cats and dogs. Side effects include respiratory distress, brown mucus membranes, lethargy, vomiting and yellow mucus membranes. In simple terms, cats die from suffocation, because their red blood cells are not able to carry oxygen. Only a very small amount of acetaminophen will cause this to happen. In dogs, ingestion of acetaminophen can cause liver failure. If your pet has consumed acetaminophen seek veterinary treatment immediately.

Tea Tree Oil

Many people are surprised to learn that Tea Tree oil (also known as Melaleuca oil) is toxic to dogs and cats. People apply Tea Tree oil to themselves as an herbal remedy. Sides effects of applying Tea Tree oil to dogs and cats include: muscle tremors, liver damage, hypothermia, slow heart rates, weakness, and central nervous system depression that can lead to coma. Dogs and cats have died when a formulation of a 100 % Tea Tree oil has been applied to their coats. Treatment includes bathing with liquid dishwashing detergent and IV fluids and supportive medications.


Chocolate is a more familiar pet toxin. Usually the pet consumes the chocolate by accident. The more pure the chocolate is, the more dangerous it is for dogs and cats. Dark chocolate is said to have health benefits for humans but this is absolutely not true for dogs and cats. The two toxins in chocolate are Theobromine and caffeine. Unsweetened baking chocolate can have 10 times as much Theobromine as milk chocolate. Side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, drinking and urinating a lot, staggering, irregular heart rhythm, seizures, tremors and death. Treatment includes inducing vomiting if the chocolate was eaten in the past 6 hours, giving activated charcoal and medications to treat the symptoms. Always store chocolate in a safe location.

Get Help

If you have any questions or concerns about anything that might be toxic to your pets, please call us at Snelgrove Veterinary Services at (905) 846 – 3316. There is also the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213 – 6680. (Note, there is $35 US fee for the Helpline). In a non-emergency situation you are more than welcome to read our Lifelearn Client Handouts on our web-site. Just click on “Pet Health” and type in any topic that you are interested in. These handouts are researched by the University of Guelph.

Dr. Judy da Costa

A personal moment with Melanie

A personal moment with Melanie

Euthanasia. It’s a word that strikes fear in to every pet owner’s heart. At least once a week, a client will say to me “I’d love to have your job but I couldn’t deal with all the euthanasia’s”. After 5 years in this field of work, I can tell you it’s the most difficult part of my job, and yet, one of the kindest things we do here.

Last April, my aunt was in the hospital, dying of lung cancer. She was suffering. She had enough pain management drugs in her system to make a doctor cry. And still she suffered. I asked her once, at the start of her diagnosis, if she was afraid of dying. She said no, she was afraid of suffering. The day she passed away, they had just stopped her pacemaker (the only thing keeping her alive), and I sat at the foot of her bed and waited. I watched her writhe in agony. And we waited some more. And we watched some more. And we waited some more. The whole time, the only thing I could think, was “Why? Why can we help animals who are suffering and not help people?”

I still don’t have the answer for that question but every day I’m grateful that we can help suffering animals. Does that help me deal with an euthanasia better? Sometimes. Sometimes an animal comes in the door in so much pain, that while my heart breaks for the owner, I’m relieved for the animal. There are times when fate plays a nasty trick and we have to assist them in leaving this world too soon. Those days are much, much harder.

Some days, there are days we cry right there in the room with you, while you’re saying goodbye to your pet. There are days we walk in to another room and cry for you, for your pet, but, in the end, I wouldn’t change my job, the career I’ve chosen. All in all, at the end of each day, there’s a sigh of happiness for every animal we helped that day, whether the pet be at the beginning of life, the middle of life, or the end of life.