Evidence Based

Xylitol – Why Is It Fatal To Dogs

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Xylitol is extremely dangerous to dogs. Even the smallest amount of it can lead to fatal consequences. Read on and discover why this sugar-free sweetener is so dangerous and in which products usually contain it.

It seems that everything nowadays is sugar-free since everyone is on a weight-loss enthusiasm. Sugar-free food may be good for you, but it’s probably very dangerous for your dog. The issue here is that many sugar-free products contain xylitol.

Xylitol is a sugar-free substance used to substitute sugar. It’s even called a ‘sugar alcohol’ and it can be naturally found in certain fruit, although in small amounts. In recent years, Xylitol gained huge popularity because it’s sugar-free.

Xylitol – Why Is It Fatal To Dogs?

Ingestion of Xylitol directly affects insulin release throughout the body. Furthermore, insulin causes an increase in blood sugar, otherwise known as glucose. That blood sugar goes into the fat cells and muscle, resulting in decreasing blood glucose levels. (1)

Xylitol promotes the release of insulin from the pancreas into circulation leading to a strong decrease in blood glucose levels. Then, low blood sugar otherwise known as hypoglycemia occurs within 30 to 60 minutes of xylitol ingestion with low levels, such as 0.1g xylitol/kb bogy weight. (2)

Hypoglycemia may blend further into liver damage, liver failure, and even liver toxicity. (3) Ingesting higher amounts of xylitol increases the risk for developing liver toxicity.

Why Is Xylitol Dangerous To Dogs, But Not People?

Xylitol is safe for people, but because people have different metabolisms then animals, xylitol can be fatal for cats and dogs. Actually, Xylitol is more dangerous for dogs than cats. Interestingly, both in people and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. (4)

In people, xylitol doesn’t stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. However, it’s completely different in dogs: when a dog eats something that contains xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly to be absorbed into the bloodstream and may result in a strong release of insulin from the pancreas.

This strong release of insulin may result in strong release in the level of blood sugar that can result in a strong effect that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of ingesting xylitol. If left untreated, high blood sugar can quickly be a life-threatening moment.

For cat and ferret owners: Cats appear to be spared by their disdain for sweets. Ferret owners should be more careful, because ferrets are known for being able to develop low blood sugar and seizures.

Food That Contains Xylitol

The majority of products that contain Xylitol are easily found in your kitchen. Minimum of 700 products contains this sugar-free ingredient.

You should carefully read every product label and keep the food with Xylitol away from your dog’s reach. The list of products that you should keep away from your dog:

  • Candies, Gum & Mints
  • Chocolate
  • Peanut and Nut Butters
  • Dental and Nasal: Toothpaste, Floss, Mouthwash and Rinses
  • Medications, Vitamins, Supplements and Oils
  • Honey, Raw Xylitol and Sweeteners
  • Cookies, Desserts, Mixes, Ice Cream and Yogurt
  • Jams and Syrups
  • Condiments and Sauces
  • Water and Drink Powders
  • Power and Protein Bars, and Powders
  • Cosmetics and Hair Care
  • Body and Face Care

Make sure that you put extra attention to baked goods and gums because dogs can easily approach them and swallow when you are not looking. You can find the full list of products that contain Xylitol here.

Also, Xylitol is commonly found in:

  • Gums
  • Mints
  • Candies
  • Diabetic snacks and foods
  • Baked goods
  • Nasal sprays

Xylitol Poisoning Symptoms

There are various symptoms of Xylitol poisoning. The most common symptom is vomiting, that is usually followed by diverse symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of dog’s sugar. Some of the symptoms also include: (5)

  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Bruising
  • Abnormal mentation
  • Clotting problems
  • Walking drunk
  • Acute collapse
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • A racing heart rate

In some cases, if the dog ingests a huge amount of Xylitol the death may occur immediately. If you believe that your dog ingested Xylitol, but you are not sure, take the following steps:

  • Don’t panic and stay calm.
  • Read the product label to check if the product contains Xylitol.
  • If the label says Xylitol contact your veterinarian.

If the product contains sugar-free products such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, maltitol, sorbitol or even erythritol, your dog will be safe. As long as there is no Xylitol.

Good to know: Xylitol is usually listed in the first 3-5 ingredients.

Xylitol Poisoning Diagnosis

Diagnosis is possible only when it’s based on clinical findings and history of exposure. You will need to take your dog to veterinarian’s office so he or she can examine him properly and take the needed tests. If your dog gets hypoglycemia it doesn’t necessary means that it’s Xylitol poisoning. Other causes of hypoglycemia usually include: (6)

Again, if Xylitol ingestion occurs, consult your veterinarian immediately. You will maybe have to induce vomiting to remove xylitol, but your veterinarian is the only one that can monitor blood sugar levels and remove the problem when recognized.

If your canine ingested Xylitol his chances of fast recovery are well if the treatment is immediate and proper. On the other hand, if the reaction is not fast and the treatment is not proper several difficulties may occur. This especially applies when it comes to liver toxicity.

So, large ingestion of Xylitol that is not noticed immediately can result in liver failure and death despite strong supportive care. Usually, this can occur in less than 36 hours in dogs that are otherwise healthy and young.

Xylitol Poisoning Treatment

If your dog did ingest Xylitol your veterinarian will first have to check the sugar level. If the sugar level is normal and the ingestion was within a few hours and therefore recent, your veterinarian may induce vomiting.

If your dog is hypoglycemic, a stat bolus of intravenous (IV) dextrose (i.e., sugar) is a must, followed naturally by hospitalization. In most cases, the treatment will include IV fluids with dextrose (sugar supplementation) for a minimum of 12-18 hours. On the other hand, if your dog manages to maintain his blood sugar once the dextrose treatment is over, your dog will be free to go home. (7)

If a dangerous dose was ingested and not vomited back up, your veterinarian will recommend hospitalizing your dog for IV fluids, symptomatic supportive care, and dextrose supplementation. Your veterinarian will probably call for careful monitoring of blood work, that will include blood sugar, liver enzymes, and electrolytes.

If your dog ingested a dose approaching the liver-toxic amount of Xylitol, the use of liver protectants is guaranteed. Majority of dogs are sent home on liver protectants for weeks, while rechecking liver enzymes frequently, to be on the safe side.

When in doubt, if you think that your dog got into Xylitol, contact your veterinarian or an Animal Poison Control Center right away. They will explain to you calmly and helpfully to calculate and determine whether or not the amount of Xylitol ingested is poisonous or not. Try to keep these products or foods out of reach of your pets.

Bear in mind, with any pet poisoning, the sooner you recognize the problem and seek veterinary help, the less dangerous and less expensive it is to your pet.

How To Avoid Xylitol Poisoning In Your Dog?

The fastest and the easiest way to avoid Xylitol poisoning is to check the product label. You should check twice if the product comes with low sugar or it’s sugar-free. If a product contains Xylitol, make sure that your pet can’t get it. Few tips:

  • Keep Xylitol-based products out of your dog’s reach. Never forget that dogs just love counter surfing.
  • Use only pet toothpaste, never human.
  • For any kind of butter, check if it contains Xylitol.

Always Read The Ingredient Label

As a natural sugar substitute, Xylitol is used in several different products, including the products for dental and diabetic benefits in people. Regardless of what kind of product it is, if it contains Xylitol it can be toxic and fatal to dogs. So, during your next shopping tour make sure that you look on the front (also known as a promotional side) of the product packaging that might indicate that you’ll find Xylitol:

  • Sugar Free
  • All Natural – No Sugar Added
  • Reduced Sugar
  • 100% Natural
  • Naturally Sweetened
  • Low Calorie
  • Anti-Cavity
  • Tooth Friendly

Protect Your Dog From Xylitol Poisoning

There are some simple measures that you can perform to protect your dog from grabbing and eating something that he shouldn’t. Follow these simple steps to make your life easier and your dog’s life safer:

  • Be careful where you put your bag – make sure that you place in the safe spot your purse, briefcase, backpack or any other bag that may contain even the smallest trail of Xylitol in form of gums, mints or even lip balm.

    Never leave them lying around and moreover, never leave them on the sofa, floor, or chair. Also, pay extra attention to low-lying tables or kitchen counters. If possible, hang your bag on a safe wall hook or behind the closed closet doors.

  • Move sugar-free baking – if you have any sugar-free baking in your home, be careful on where do you store your baked goods and sweeteners. Your dog probably loves free counter surfing so you should avoid leaving any of the tasty treats on kitchen counters.
  • Dog’s Toothpaste – if you brush your dog’s tooth make sure that you use only pet-toothpaste, if you want to save his gums. They come without Xylitol, and in addition they come without fluoride which can also be toxic to pets. (8)
  • Maintain leash control – this applies to time spent outside. This will prevent your dog from eating things off the ground. This action is also known as ‘scavenging’. Consider using a head collar or even basket muzzle on dogs that are known to scavenge.
  • Check the label – always double-check label for ingredients. This goes for the products that you keep in your kitchen, in your bag, pockets or just around the house.

If your canine ever gets to Xylitol product such as mints, gum, peanut butter, or anything else be sure to check the ingredient label and contact your veterinarian, a pet-specific poison control, or your local Animal ER, if xylitol is mentioned anywhere in the ingredient list.

Xylitol – Summary

Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in sugar-free gums and many other products that are designed primarily for human, but lethal for animals, especially dogs. This sugar substitute can even damage the liver.

Even the smallest amount can be deadly, so early veterinary intervention is crucial. Therefore, you should make sure that any of the products with Xylitol is far away from your dogs reach.