Sugar Substitute Xylitol is Poisonous to your Pet

By: Dr. Anne Dayton ALD

Sugar substitutes may sound wonderful and may they are if you are a human. If you are a dog, one particular sugar substitute, Xylitol, is potentially lethal. It is often found in sugarless gum, certain baked goods, and some sugarless candies. It may also be found in certain flavored human medications and toothpaste. The potential toxicity to cats is still unknown.

There are two deadly effect Xylitol can have. The first is Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In a dog the pancreas confuses xylitol with real sugar ad releases insulin to store the “sugar”. The problem is that Xylitol does not offer the extra calories of real sugar and the rush of insulin only serves to remove the real sugar from the circulation. Blood sugar levels plummet resulting in weakness, disorientation, tremors, and potentially seizures.

Labwork The other reaction associated with Xylitol is Hepatic Necrosis the actual destruction of the liver tissue. How this happens remains unknown, but the doses of Xylitol required to produce this effect are much higher than the hypoglycemic doses described above. Signs take longer to show up (typically 8-12 hours) and surprisingly not all dogs that experience hepatic necrosis, will have experienced hypoglycemia first. A lucky dog experiences only temporary illness, but alternatively, a complete and acute liver failure can result with death following. Internal hemorrhage and inability of blood to clot is commonly involved.

It does not take many sticks of gum to poison a dog, especially a small dog. Symptoms typically begin within 30 minutes and can last for more than 12 hours. Vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. A example of a Hypoglycemic dose of Xylitol would be if you have a 10 lb dog it could be poisoned by as little as a stick and a half of gum.  The dose to cause the Gum and Xylitol Hepatic Necrosis would be a whole unopened pack of gum for the same 10 lb dog.

To treat a dog with Xylitol toxicity the patient ideally should be seen quickly (within 30 minutes) and hopefully can be made to vomit the gum/ candy. Beyond that point a dextrose (sugar) IV drip is prudent for a good 24 hours. Liver enzyme and blood clotting test are monitored for 2 to 3 days. Blood levels of potassium are ideally monitored as well. If you are worried about your pet, and think that they might have gotten into a product that contains Xylitol please first contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at  (888) 426-4435 (please note there is a fee of $65). If they recommend treatment give us a call, or if you have questions please give us a call at (775) 358-6880.