Xylitol Toxicity and Your Dog
Has one of your friends told you about the horrific experience they had to go through when their dog suffered Xylitol poisoning? Or maybe you’ve read about it on the internet. Whichever the case, it is a true and scary prospect that your dog can get Xylitol poisoning from something like a pack of gum or toothpaste.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol occurs naturally and is extensively used as a sugar substitute in the food manufacturing industry. It has the chemical structure of a sugar alcohol. This ingredient is found in plums, oats, corn, lettuce, mushrooms, berries, and trees, as well as other vegetables.
Commercial extraction is usually from corn fiber, hardwood trees and birch trees. After processing, xylitol looks like a white powder which tastes like sugar. It is used as a sweetener in sugar-free food products. It also is used in some pharmaceuticals and oral care products.
This means that there is a wide range of products that may contain xylitol as the sweetener. This includes sugar-free gum, breath mints, mouthwash, digestive or sleep aids, cough syrup, baked goods, and candies.
Many times, xylitol will not be listed as an ingredient on a product. For instance, a product may not list xylitol but it will list something like peanut butter as an ingredient. Some peanut butter products contain xylitol. The list of products containing xylitol in one form or another is constantly growing.
The Preventive Vet website has the best list that we’ve seen and they’re constantly updating it. When you get a chance, check out the Products that Contain Xylitol list.
Why Xylitol Has Become so Popular as an Ingredient
The sugar alcohol is almost as sweet as ordinary sugar but has considerably less calories; about two thirds the amount contained in sucrose. As such, it is a sugar substitute that ranks much lower on the glycemic index (a scale that grades foods rich in carbohydrates according to the level they raise blood sugar in comparison to glucose).
Its low ranking on the scale makes it the perfect sugar substitute for diabetics and people on a low-carb diet. It also has other benefits when it comes to oral health products as it fights plaque, stimulates production of saliva and prevents dental cavities.
Xylitol is Deadly for Dogs
While it may have numerous applications when it comes to human use, xylitol is an absolute cause of death for your furry friend. The system for blood sugar control in humans is similar to that of a dog. Insulin is released from the pancreas and thus reduces blood sugar when it is too high.
Xylitol may be used since it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in human beings but the story is quite the opposite in non-primates. In non-primates, such as your dog, the ingested xylitol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing the system to release large amounts of insulin into the blood.
The increase of insulin is fast and potent, and therefore your dog’s blood sugar level dips, causing hypoglycemia. This happens within a matter of minutes after eating products with the sweetener.
Given the hypoglycemia sets in after 10 to 60 minutes of your dog ingesting xylitol, lack of immediate treatment can lead to certain death. Aside from low blood sugar, xylitol further damages your dog’s liver and thus your dog succumbs to either insulin shock or liver damage which can occur in a span of 24 hours. That’s extremely fast!
How Much Xylitol is Poisonous?
Research has shown that 50 milligrams (mg) of the substance for every pound of body weight (100 mg per kg) can cause hypoglycemia in dogs. The risk of liver damage increases with an increase of ingested substance.
Most xylitol poisoning incidences are caused by sugar-free gum. Gum manufactures vary the xylitol content in their products and some have such a small amount that it would take about 9 pieces of gum to cause acute hypoglycemia for a 20kg (44 lb.) dog, which would mean approximately 45 pieces to result in liver failure.
However, there are gum varieties with 1g of xylitol per piece. It will only take a couple of pieces to cause severe hypoglycemia if such gum is ingested and approximately 10 pieces for liver damage to occur.
How to Identify Xylitol Poisoning
Xylitol poisoning takes a toll on your dog’s system rapidly. It only takes about 15 to 30 minutes for the symptoms to start showing up. The following signs may indicate possible hypoglycemia in dogs:
Seizures often develop in extreme cases where your dog is in danger of liver damage. In every case, hypoglycemia comes before liver damage.
What to Do in the Event of Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
If you suspect that your dog has ingested a product with xylitol, you should get help immediately. Call your vet or the Pet Poisoning Helpline (800-231-6680) immediately. Either of the two will direct you on some life-saving procedures that you can perform before getting your dog to a professional.
It isn’t a good idea to induce vomiting by yourself; only do so under the express command of your veterinarian. Since there is no way for you to determine the extent of hypoglycemia, inducing vomiting may cause more complications. Vomiting is usually induced to stop absorption even before clinical symptoms are observed. This can only work if you’re sure that there has been xylitol poisoning or by checking the blood sugar level.
Xylitol Toxicity – No Antidote
This violent and rapid reaction caused by xylitol toxicity has no antidote at the moment. Nevertheless, liver protective drugs, sugar supplementation and IV fluids can be useful to treat an affected dog and to help with full recovery. This treatment, however, should come swiftly since it works to reverse toxicity and prevent severe problems from arising.
One of the first things done to help reduce the Xylitol poisoning is performing blood work. The results of the blood work helps to determine whether lower potassium and blood glucose levels need treatment. In any case, your dog will have to stay in the hospital to facilitate administration of dextrose, liver protection medicine and intravenous fluids as well as blood sugar screening. Monitoring is often necessary to make sure blood sugar level and liver function remains stable.
Prevent Xylitol Poisoning for Your Dog
Given the numerous range of products that contain the sweetener, it is best to always be careful where you keep them. Simple mistakes around the house can cause great pain and distress to your furry companion.
As such, always keep them away from your dog’s reach. Remember that your dog is smart and, depending on his size, if he wants something on your kitchen counter or cabinet, he’ll probably figure out a way to get it.
You need to educate yourself about which products contain xylitol and this is an ongoing process for all of us dog owners. Be sure to check out the Products that Contain Xylitol list.
Is xylitol deadly for dogs? Sure it is; but it all depends on the amount in the product that your dog has ingested.