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.
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!
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.
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!