Across America, millions of people are taking steps to improve their health and this often starts with a rehaul of their diet. As more people make significant changes to their diet, it is important for dog owners to take stock of what is in their cupboard. From baked goods to gum, and even peanut butter, xylitol is becoming a common ingredient in all of them.
While this isn’t an issue for humans, it is a great concern for dogs. Before you offer your dog a healthy treat from your cupboard, learn about xylitol and the dangers it presents for your dog.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is becoming very popular in the world of healthy alternatives. Commonly known as sugar alcohol, it is a sugar-free substance that is dissolvable and found in many products. The chemical is actually found naturally in some fruits, although in small amounts.
However, it is processed for use in health bars, diabetic friendly foods, and even in some kinds of peanut butter. For the most part, xylitol is not a risk; however, with it becoming the more popular substitute for sugar, it could quickly become one.
For humans, this sugar substitute offers several benefits including a reduction of sugar and calories. In addition, studies point to xylitol reducing the number of cavities a person can get.
What are the Risks for Dogs?
While xylitol is safe for human consumption, it presents a very serious risk for dogs. When consumed, dogs experience an acute poisoning.
This puts the dogs at risk for two serious syndromes.
- Hypoglycemia: The first syndrome is hypoglycemia, which occurs when the dog’s blood sugar drops. This drop occurs due to a flood of insulin when dogs consume xylitol. Hypoglycemia is a life-threatening condition in dogs.
- Acute Hepatic Necrosis: This condition is caused by the sudden insulin release and can be fatal for a dog. It is when the liver begins to shut down the dog goes into severe liver failure.
What is Xylitol Found In?
As mentioned, xylitol is becoming a very popular substitute found in a large number of products. Many products are not eaten or offered to dogs but there are a few that are favorite treats for dogs. In addition, all of these products could be accidentally consumed by dogs so make sure you keep them up to prevent an accident.
Gum: A large percentage of gum contains xylitol. While it is unclear how much is in each stick, between 6 to 10 sticks of gum usually contains enough xylitol to kill a 65lb dog.
Body and Face Cream: There are tons of body and face creams that contain xylitol. Although it is not a product dogs frequently eat, it is a good reminder to place items up where dogs can’t get them.
Cosmetics: Like body and face cream, xylitol is a popular ingredient in various products.
Health Supplements/Bars/Shakes: Foods such as power bars and health shakes often uses xylitol as an alternative to sugar as it has fewer calories. Never give your dog any type of power bar to prevent accidental poisoning.
Peanut Butter: A favorite for dogs around the world, more companies are using the popular sugar substitute in their peanut butter. Currently, it is more commonly seen in sugar-free and calorie wise peanut butter but always check the ingredients list on the peanut butter before you offer it to your dog.
Cookies and Baked Goods: Manufactured baked goods, especially those for diabetics, contain high amounts.
Jams: Jams along with syrups are another common item containing xylitol.
Ice Creams: A favorite treat for many dogs, an increasing number of ice cream brands are using xylitol instead of sugar.
As you can see, there is a wide range of products with the sugar substitute. The key point is to always double check the ingredients list on anything that you will be feeding to your dog.
How Much is Too Much Xylitol?
Really, even one bite of xylitol is too much but it isn’t likely to have any effect on an average 65lb dog. You want to understand how to determine if your dog has had too much if he happens to eat a xylitol food.
First, check the ingredients list. The rule of thumb is that packaging lists ingredients in order of what appears the most in the food. If xylitol is in the first 3 to 5 ingredients, then there is cause for concern. If it is down past the fifth ingredient, then your dog should be okay. However, contact your veterinarian about the consumption. While it may be fine for some dogs, others may be at a greater risk of poisoning.
In general, any consumption of over 0.004oz/2.2lbs (0.1g/kg) is considered toxic to dogs. Over 0.017oz/2.2lbs (0.5g/kg) can be fatal for a dog.
Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning
As you know, if your dog consumes this sugar substitute, it can cause severe side effects. In addition, xylitol poisoning can be fatal for a dog of any size, depending on the amount of xylitol he consumes. For that reason, it is important to understand the symptoms of xylitol poisoning. These include:
- Depressed mood
- Diarrhea and black tarry stools
- Clumsy mobility (also known as walking drunk)
- Pale or jaundiced gums
- Increased heart rate
In addition to these symptoms, dogs can often exhibit mental impairment and they may have clotting problems— often discovered at the veterinarian office.
If not treated quickly, xylitol poisoning can result in the death of the dog.
What is the Treatment for Xylitol Poisoning?
If you suspect xylitol poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. At the vets, the staff will start with a blood sugar level test. This will determine the course of treatment.
When consumption only occurred within a few short hours, and if blood sugar levels are normal, the vet may induce vomiting in the dog. The vet will monitor blood sugar levels for a while after vomiting.
If the blood sugar levels come in as low, your veterinarian will start an intravenous of fluids and dextrose to help raise his blood sugar. Your dog will receive about 12 to 18 hours of dextrose before he can go home. In addition to the dextrose, if the dose was large enough to affect the liver, the veterinarian will administer liver protectants as well as the dextrose.
Some vets may recommend activated charcoal; however, this is not necessary for this type of poisoning, as charcoal does not bind to xylitol. Once your dog is through the poisoning, it is important to continue to monitor your dog’s blood levels for several days and weeks after coming home. Your vet will set a schedule for checkups to make sure that your dog continues to improve.
As with all poisoning, if you suspect that your dog’s consumed the sugar substitute, seek medical help immediately. The faster you seek help, the quicker treatment stars. The greater the chance of survival will be. It is for this reason that we urge owners to be aware of not only the ingredients of products in their house but also understanding the symptoms of xylitol poisoning. Your knowledge could save your dog’s life.