Xylitol and dogs
Xylitol (pronounced ZEYE-lit-ohll) is a commonly used sugar substitute, often labelled ‘natural’ (although it is actually processed) – and you, as a dog owner, MUST know about it.
We cannot emphasise this enough: Xylitol can and does kill dogs.
WHY IS XYLITOL SO DANGEROUS FOR DOGS?
Dogs cannot process this sugar alcohol in the same way that humans do. When they eat it, xylitol causes a massive, rapid release of insulin. This causes the dog’s blood sugar to plummet, which can lead to weakness, staggering (walking as if they are drunk), seizures, collapse, and even coma. Many dogs go on to develop liver damage and failure.
Cats don’t seem to be as badly affected, possibly more because they aren’t generally interested in sweet foods (cats don’t have taste buds for sweetness) but there are anecdotal reports of pet ferrets being affected.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Not much. Just 0.1g/kg causes a rapid drop in blood sugar which, in itself, could kill and, at least, will cause ‘hypoglycaemia’ (low blood sugar) with weakness, shaking, and lack of coordination. If treated swiftly and effectively, this is reversible. If not treated fast enough and/or if the dose was high, the dog can go on to develop seizures, coma, and death.
It also causes irreversible liver failure (at around 0.5g/kg of dog). If dogs survive, which is not a given, you may end up with a dog needing chronic medication (including daily insulin shots). The faster you get treatment, the better their chances.
0.1g/kg = blood sugar drop
0.5g/kg = liver damage
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN IN REAL TERMS?
In ‘real terms’ this means that a 5kg dog only needs half a gram of xylitol to get very ill, and 2.5 gram to get liver failure.
- Example 1: A stick of gum can contain 1 – 2g of xylitol. That’s twice the quantity needed to cause hypoglycaemia in a 5kg dog.
- Example 2: A sachet of xylitol which we’d use for our coffee is anything from 2.5 – 5g/sachet. Enough to kill a 10kg dog.
- Example 3: A batch of 24 cupcakes baked using 1 cup of xylitol. One of those cupcakes is enough to kill 2 medium-sized dogs.
WHERE IS XYLITOL FOUND?
Xylitol is just about everywhere these days, especially sugar-free chewing gum (the main culprit in xylitol poisoning cases), mouthwash, toothpaste, sweets, ‘banting’ diet foods, peanut butter, yoghurt, cookies, juice, cakes, muffins, and pretty much anywhere manufacturers want to sweeten things without adding sugar or the much-maligned aspartame, sorbitol, and acesulfame-k. (None of these artificial sweeteners are good for dogs either but they are not quite as dangerous as xylitol.)
It is also in some medications, like cough syrup, ‘meltaway’ medicines, antacids, stool softeners, nasal sprays, and chewable vitamins.
Believe it or not, xylitol is even increasingly being included in some cosmetics and toiletries, such as deodorants, shampoos, lipbalm, hand cream, facial cleansers, scrubs, and creams, because of its humectant properties.
ALWAYS check your labels. If it is sweet and does not list ingredients but is labelled ‘sugar free’, err on the side of caution. Note that sometimes xylitol is listed as just ‘sugar alcohol‘. Keep anything containing xylitol out of your pets’ reach (remember your handbag if you keep gum or breath mints in it).
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG EATS XYLITOL
If your dog eats xylitol, call an emergency veterinarian immediately. The damage can start in as short a time as 10 minutes but you may not see the effects for several hours, so do not think that, just because your dog looks fine that s/he is fine.
If possible, note down exactly what they ate, how much, and when, as this will help your vet treat your dog.
Do not induce vomiting unless your veterinarian advises you to do so. If you have corn syrup, you may rub a drop on their gums (do not give more than that!) but this only raises their blood sugar enough to give you a few extra minutes to get them to the vet.