Is Xylitol Dangerous For Dogs?

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As dog owners, most of us are probably already aware of Xylitol’s dangers to our dogs. The sugar substitute is often found in chewing gum but can also be found in other items – some that you may not even be aware of. Xylitol can almost be guaranteed to be found in everything that is listed as “sugar-free” or “low-calorie.” And the worrying part is it can even be in those items sold as being “natural.”

For those dog owners unaware of what problems Xylitol can cause or why we should be careful not to let our dogs eat it, this article will dig deeper into why it is imperative to prevent your canine from ingesting it. 

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a popular sugar alcohol used as a sugar substitute in many products. While safe for human consumption, it is highly toxic to dogs. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol derived from corn, birch trees, raspberries, and mushrooms. It has a sweetness equal to regular sugar but contains about 40% fewer calories, making it an appealing low-calorie sweetener. However, while Xylitol does not affect human blood sugar levels, it can cause a rapid and dangerous insulin release in dogs who ingest it. Even small amounts can prove fatal to dogs. This means keeping xylitol-containing products far away from canine companions is crucial.

Where Xylitol is Commonly Found

Xylitol is found in everyday products, even in some you would never consider. Dog owners must diligently read ingredient labels, as the sugar substitute is increasingly added to foods, medicines, and oral care products as an alternative sweetener.

Xylitol is Found in Many Consumer Products

It’s not just gum and mints that contain the harmful substance. Xylitol is also an ingredient in jams and jellies, salad dressing, cupcakes, sugar-free pudding, children’s medication, and many more household items. That is why it’s so important to read the labels before leaving food items and other things that your dog could accidentally get into. 

Some More Common Products Xylitol is Found 

  • Sugar-free gum – Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute in many popular sugar-free gums 
  • Breath mints – Sugar-free breath mints often contain Xylitol as a sweetener. 
  • Peanut butter – Some brands of peanut butter use Xylitol as a sugar substitute. Check the label carefully.
  • Sugar-free candy – Xylitol is found in many candies marketed as “sugar-free” or for diabetics. Brands like Skittles, Life Savers, and Jelly Belly have xylitol options.
  • Baked goods – Xylitol is sometimes used when baking sugar-free cookies, cakes, muffins, and other treats.
  • Chewing gum – Chewing gum brands like Pur and Spry contain Xylitol.
  • Toothpaste – Some toothpastes contain Xylitol because it helps prevent cavities. But ingesting these can be dangerous.
  • Throat lozenges or gummies – Sugar-free lozenges and gummies aimed at sore throats often contain xylitol.
  • Vitamins – Some vitamin supplements include Xylitol as an additive.

Keeping all products containing Xylitol well out of a dog’s reach is essential, as even small amounts can be highly toxic. Check labels carefully and contact your vet with any concerns.

​​Less Common or Unexpected Products that May Contain Xylitol

  • Hand sanitizers: Some hand sanitizer brands use Xylitol as an active ingredient.
  • Cough syrups: A few cough syrup brands incorporate Xylitol as a sweetener.
  • Children’s medications: Occasionally, Xylitol is used to flavor children’s chewable medications.
  • Protein powders/bars: Some high protein powders and nutrition bars are sweetened with Xylitol.
  • Multivitamins: Some specialty multivitamin blends include Xylitol.
  • Nicotine gum: Certain nicotine gums leverage Xylitol as a sweetener and flavoring.
  • Yogurt: A few yogurt brands add Xylitol to their yogurt lines as a sugar substitute.
  • Jell-O: Some sugar-free Jell-O products are sweetened with Xylitol.
  • Syrups: A few brands use Xylitol in their sugar-free pancake/maple syrups.
  • Gelatin: Occasionally, Xylitol is used as a sweetener in pre-made gelatin or pudding cups.
  • OTC nasal sprays: Some nasal sprays contain Xylitol as an ingredient.

While less common, it’s essential to thoroughly read labels and ingredient lists before giving dogs any human food products or medications. Even obscure products could contain Xylitol.

Some Labels are Misleading

Just because it says “all-natural” doesn’t mean that you don’t run the risk of having Xylitol as a main ingredient. Technically, Xylitol can be “natural” because its source, xylan, is originally produced from a tree. That is why if you come across a label that says “all-natural,” you must double-check it since Xylitol can still be used to make that particular product. 

Dietary Trends in the US Have Led to a Rise in Xylitol

With more people wanting lower calorie or sugar-free alternatives that are also “natural,” there has been an increase in the use of Xylitol for sweetening products. As a dog owner, you must be extra cautious because Xylitol is becoming increasingly common in food products. 

Xylitol Isn’t Always Produced from Trees

While it can be sourced from trees, Xylitol is also sourced from corn. Food scientists found a way to source Xylitol as a byproduct of ethanol production, meaning it’s much cheaper to manufacture and can appear in more products. 

How Xylitol Can Be Dangerous to Dogs

While Xylitol is a safe sugar substitute for human consumption, it can be extremely toxic and dangerous for dogs. The danger comes from how a dog’s body metabolizes Xylitol versus how the human body does. When dogs ingest Xylitol, their bodies mistake it for regular sugar, and insulin rapidly releases from the pancreas in response. This rapid insulin release causes a dangerously fast drop in blood sugar levels in dogs. Hypoglycemia quickly follows, resulting in energy depletion in the dog’s cells. Immediate veterinary treatment is critical to protect the dog from Xylitol’s potentially devastating health effects. Preventing access to Xylitol remains the only guaranteed way to avoid this toxicity.

It Causes Serious Damage

The most common way xylitol poisoning presents itself in dogs is a sudden and dangerous drop in blood pressure. This is followed by seizures, brain damage, liver failure, and death if medical attention is not sought. 

Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs

Recognizing and being aware of the symptoms of xylitol poisoning is essential to pack leadership​​ . Educating yourself on the typical effects of xylitol toxicity better prepares you to respond in an emergency and be your dog’s health advocate.

  • Vomiting – One of the first signs of xylitol poisoning, beginning within 30-60 minutes of ingestion. Vomiting may be profuse.
  • Weakness/lethargy – As Xylitol is metabolized, dogs become extremely weak and lethargic. They may collapse, have muscle tremors, or be unable to stand.
  • Ataxia – Lack of coordination, stumbling, falling over. Dogs lose control of bodily movements.
  • Seizures – Xylitol poisoning can cause seizures in dogs, sometimes severe and repeated seizures.
  • Coma – Severely poisoned dogs may go into a coma. This requires immediate veterinary treatment.
  • Hypoglycemia – Low blood sugar occurs as xylitol triggers increased insulin release. This causes rapid, dangerous drops in blood sugar levels.
  • Liver failure – The liver metabolizes xylitol. High doses can lead to liver dysfunction or failure within 24 hours of ingestion.

Health Complications Xylitol Can Cause

Ingestion of Xylitol can have devastating health impacts for dogs. Xylitol is highly toxic to canines as they cannot metabolize it properly. Even small amounts can cause a rapid release of insulin in the dog’s body resulting in plummeting blood sugar levels. This can quickly lead to hypoglycemia, resulting in vomiting, lethargy, loss of coordination, collapse, and seizures. High doses of Xylitol can also cause liver damage or failure within just a day or two of ingestion as the liver becomes overwhelmed trying to process it. Some dogs develop coagulopathy, meaning their blood loses its ability to clot properly. Other effects of xylitol toxicity can include weakness, ataxia, coma, and even death in as little as 10-15 minutes for smaller dogs eating more significant quantities. Immediate veterinary treatment is essential for the best chance of recovery and to prevent potentially life-threatening health repercussions. Preventing access to products with Xylitol remains critical to canine health.

A tiny 500 mg bit of Xylitol is enough to kill a small dog and can make an average-sized dog extremely sick. The average stick of gum contains about 300 mg, so the risk factor is very, very high. 

Preventing Xylitol Poisoning

Dog parents must be diligent label readers and keep any item containing Xylitol locked away or unreachable. Preventing access, training dogs not to counter surf or steal food, and knowing the symptoms of poisoning allows owners to safeguard canine health proactively. 

Being Aware of Xylitol in Products

Pack Leaders must be knowledgeable about understanding where this toxin may be lurking. Awareness that items like peanut butter, breath mints, sugar-free gum/desserts, vitamins, and even some dental care products can contain Xylitol allows dog owners to prevent exposure by keeping these dangerous items away from their beloved canine companions.

Keeping Items Containing Xylitol Away from Dogs

Products containing Xylitol should be kept in locked cabinets or safely out of reach from curious canine noses and paws to prevent accidental poisoning. Storing items with this sugar substitute in places dogs cannot access, such as tall countertops or inside latched pantries, helps create barriers between pets and the toxins that could harm them. 

Monitoring for Symptoms if Ingestion Occurs

If an owner suspects their dog has ingested something containing Xylitol, it is crucial to vigilantly monitor for any poisoning symptoms for at least 12 hours post-ingestion. Warning signs like vomiting, lethargy, loss of coordination, collapse, or seizures require urgent veterinary care. While quick treatment improves outcomes, delayed assistance risks progression to hypoglycemia, liver failure, coagulopathy, or even death. Close monitoring paired with rapid response at the first symptom provides a dog’s best chance at full recovery following xylitol exposure. 

Seeking Veterinary Treatment Immediately

Prompt veterinary treatment is essential at the first signs of xylitol poisoning. The earlier treatment begins, the better the prognosis. Timely treatment can prevent dangerous complications and fatalities from xylitol toxicity.

Did you know about the dangers of Xylitol or its frequent appearance in food products? Does this knowledge affect how you monitor food around your dogs? Let us know!

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