Sugarless Sweetener: Not So Sweet for Canines

Xylitol products

Xylitol is a common ingredient used to sweeten human food products.  It’s most notably found in sugarless items like chewing gum, peanut butter, Jell-O, pudding, or other household products like vitamins, mouthwash, and toothpaste.  Ice Breakers Cubed gum is the most common culprit we’ve seen lately at Aldie, and unfortunately has a high amount of xylitol.  Just ONE tiny, little, delicious cube can cause toxicity in a 25-pound dog!

Xylitol toxicity is not documented as well in cats; most research indicates they are a bit more tolerant than their canine counterparts.  However, it is not recommended to give cats xylitol and you should contact your veterinarian if you believe your cat has ingested any amount.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

A dog’s body responds to xylitol in the same, but exaggerated, manner that it would typically respond to sugar: it releases insulin.  This causes a low blood glucose (blood sugar) level, which can result in subsequent weakness, muscle tremors, or even seizures or death. Xylitol is absorbed rapidly after ingestion; the drop in blood sugar can occur as quickly as 30 minutes after ingestion, but signs may take up to 12 hours to develop.

Xylitol can also cause damage to your dog’s liver.  It can take up to 2-3 days for evidence of the damage to appear on lab work.  The liver damage can range in severity from mild and temporary, to extreme and life-threatening.  The liver is an important organ and has many jobs.  We typically think of it as the filter/recycler of the body, as it processes blood from all around the body and “cleans” it up.   However, the liver also makes many things, including clotting factors. Clotting factors allow the body to stop a severe hemorrhagic event from occurring following a simple injury (think bumping your knee=small bruise, not life-threatening hemorrhage).   Dogs with severe liver damage may become jaundiced (have a yellow tinge to eyes/skin).   If the clotting factors are also affected, life-threatening anemia can occur, and a blood transfusion may be required.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Time is of the essence! As soon as you realize your dog has ingested something containing xylitol, contact the veterinarians at Dulles South Veterinary Center and bring them in right away!  Blood glucose can drop as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion, so there’s no time to waste.

WHAT DOES THE VET DO?

We will induce vomiting, and make recommendations for further treatment and monitoring based on how much xylitol your dog ingested.  Inducing vomiting at home with hydrogen peroxide can work, sometimes. However, there are studies that show that burns from the peroxide ingestion can persist in the esophagus/stomach days after the vomiting episode. Veterinarians have a much more potent vomiting agent, which is more likely to be successful than just peroxide, and less likely to have the abrasive side effects.

After vomiting occurs, we often recommend hospitalization for IV fluid support, dextrose (sugar) supplementation, liver protectant medications, and frequent monitoring lab work.  These hospital stays range from 1 day for minimally affected dogs, to a week or more in very severe cases.

PREVENTION

Xylitol is a sneakily dangerous food ingredient.  Make sure to double check what kind of peanut butter you use to feed treats/medications, and use extreme caution with oral hygiene products, medications/vitamins, and chewing gum in the house. Make sure to keep your toothpaste and mouthwash in a drawer if you have a counter surfer, and keep purses and bookbags with gum up high on hooks to deter “shopping” from these items.

The veterinarians at Dulles South Veterinary Center are here to answer any questions or treat your pet if he/she happens to get a hold of xylitol-containing goodies.