You may have heard about the dangers of xylitol for dogs. Xylitol is used in a variety of human products, but it is very poisonous to dogs. By understanding xylitol and the products that contain it, you can take steps to keep your dog safe.
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in many plants. It is found in trace amounts in certain fruits and vegetables. Commercial xylitol is often produced from birch wood or corncobs.
Xylitol has about the same sweetness as sugar but has approximately 40% fewer calories. It is reported to have several health benefits for humans. It can prevent tooth decay, ear infections, and osteoporosis. It can also be used to treat certain diseases.
Xylitol is primarily used as a sweetener for products like gum, candy, chocolate, baked goods, peanut butter, ice cream, and pudding. It is sometimes used in medications for its health benefits as wells as to sweeten some drug suspensions. Xylitol is added to some cosmetics, deodorants, and skincare products because of its humectant properties.
Other names for xylitol include the following:
- Birch Sugar
- Sucre de Bouleau
- Sugar Alcohol
Is Xylitol Safe for Dogs?
Despite its benefits to humans, xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol ingestion can lead to two dangerous complications in dogs: hypoglycemia and hepatic necrosis.
When a dog ingests xylitol, the body mistakes it for real sugar. This causes the pancreas to release a surge of insulin in an effort to store the sugar. The pancreas releases much more insulin than it normally would for real sugar. This excess insulin causes blood sugar levels to drop drastically, leading to hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar.
Signs of xylitol-related hypoglycemia typically begin within about 30 minutes of ingestion and may last 12 or more hours. Xylitol may be absorbed slowly and delay signs as long as 12 hours after ingestion. Signs of toxicity usually begin with vomiting and progress to weakness, disorientation, incoordination, shaking or tremors, collapse, seizures, and coma.
Xylitol-related hypoglycemia may occur when ingested at a dose of 0.1 grams per kilogram, or 0.22 grams per pound of body weight.
Xylitol can also cause hepatic necrosis (destruction of liver tissue) when ingested in higher quantities. The mechanism of this toxicity is unknown, and not all dogs will experience liver problems. Signs of xylitol-related hepatic necrosis typically begin 8-12 hours after ingestion. By this time, most dogs are already experiencing the effects of hypoglycemia. Signs of liver problems include lethargy, loss of appetite, depression, and yellow-colored eyes and mucous membranes (jaundice). Dogs may develop acute liver failure, internal bleeding, and blood clotting issues that ultimately lead to death.
Xylitol ingestion can cause hepatic necrosis at a dose of 0.5 grams per kilogram, or 1.1 grams per pound of body weight.
What To Do If Your Dog Ingests Xylitol
Contact your veterinarian or a pet poison control agency immediately if your dog has ingested a toxin like Xylitol. Keep the packaging and ingredients label if possible. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so by a veterinary professional.
Your dog should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet may induce vomiting if the xylitol was recently consumed. Next, the vet will run lab tests to check the blood sugar level, evaluate blood cells, and assess organ function. Your dog may need intravenous dextrose to raise blood sugar levels. Many cases require hospitalization to monitor blood sugar and liver enzymes. Treatment for liver disease may be necessary if the liver enzymes reach abnormal levels.
Dogs are more likely to survive xylitol toxicity if treated early. Do not delay you suspect your dog has eaten something that contains xylitol.
How to Prevent Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
Keep all human food and personal care products out of the reach of dogs, especially if you know they contain xylitol. Gum is a common culprit in xylitol toxicity, so make sure not to leave packets of gum lying around.
Some peanut butter and other nut butter contain xylitol as a sugar substitute. If you give your dog peanut butter or other nut butter as a treat, make sure to first check the ingredients on the label for xylitol or its other names.
In general, you should always ask your vet before giving your dog over-the-counter medications designed for humans. If an OTC product is recommended by your vet, be sure to check the ingredient label for xylitol before you give the product to your dog.
da Silva, Annelisa Farah, et al. “Medical Applications of Xylitol: An Appraisal.” D-Xylitol, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012, pp. 325–342
Dunayer EK. New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs. Vet Med. 2006;12:791–797