Xylitol – The Sweetener That’s More Deadly Than Chocolate

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Last week, I almost killed my dogs.

Okay, not really. In fact, they never even got sick. But it was plenty close enough for this uber-paranoid pet parent.

It started out innocently enough. I had just finished a sugar-free pudding cup and I put a little on my finger to share with my dogs. After doing this a few times, a warning siren went off in my head.

What was my pudding cup sweetened with?

I rushed to the fridge and pulled out the packaging, frantically searching the ingredients. And there it was – xylitol.

Somewhere I remembered reading that xylitol, a low calorie sugar substitute, was bad for dogs. I immediately Googled “xylitol dogs” and the results did nothing to put my mind at ease. In fact, they were frightening.

Xylitol is one of the most dangerous things a dog can ingest. It is quickly absorbed into a dog’s system and causes the pancreas to release an overload of insulin into the blood stream. This results in a rapid decrease in blood glucose (hypoglycemia) usually within 30 minutes of ingestion. Studies have shown that a dog only has to ingest .045 grams per pound of body weight for this to occur. This means that a 20-pound dog can have a severe reaction by ingesting as little as 1 gram of xylitol. Higher amounts can and almost always do result in liver failure and death.

At this point, I pushed back from my computer, reached for the phone and called my vet in a calm and controlled manner.

No, not really. I. Freaked. Out.

My vet calmed me down enough to look at the amount of sugar alcohols in the pudding cup: six. My 20 and 40-pound dogs would likely have had to ingest half the pudding cup between them to cause a reaction. Because it was nowhere near that amount, my vet suggested a wait-and-see attitude (which, you may have guessed by now, is not exactly easy for me).

However, he warned me to rush them in immediately if either developed the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination or difficulty walking or standing (walking like drunk)
  • Depression or lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Luckily, my dogs were just fine. Unfortunately, there are many others who aren’t. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has seen a dramatic increase of in xylitol poisoning from two cases in 2002 to 2,512 in 2008.  This may be due to the increased use of the sweetener in sugar-free foods and chewing gum. In fact, chewing gum is the leading cause of xylitol poisoning in dogs. A typical stick of gum contains 0.3 to 0.4 grams of xylitol, which means that as little as 1-1/2 sticks of gum could poison a 10-pound dog.

Another reason for the increase may be that pet owners simply aren’t aware of the danger. Most are well versed about the potential health hazard of chocolate, onions and grapes. But xylitol – while far more deadly than any of those foods – remains a relatively unknown threat.

To keep dogs safe, owners should check the ingredients of any sugar-free foods and make sure chewing gum is well out of their reach. If your dog does ingest xylitol, immediately call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or take them to your vet for treatment.

Like this article? You might like: Eight Harmful Foods for Dogs

Amber Carlton is a freelance blogger and business writer specializing in the pet industry. Owned by two dogs and two cats, she is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet-lady amongst her friends and family. Connect with her at Comma Hound Copywriting, on Twitter or at Mayzie’s Dog Blog.

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