Xylitol, the Deadly Sweetener Capable of Killing Your Dog Within 24 Hours is Lurking in Stuff You Probably Didn’t Know About

I-simply-couldn't, but only if you insist. I really musn't you know, I need to watch my figure.

Sickeningly Sweet

Within 15 minutes it can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar, within 30 minutes it can cause seizures, within 24 hours it can cause severe liver damage, and without emergency veterinary care, irreversible brain trauma occurs, and the patient dies, so deadly a couple of sticks of it can kill a small dog.

What is this deadly poison?

Gum.

Not just ordinary gum, but sugarless gum – the kind made with xylitol.

Imagine coming home to finding your pooch on the floor, unresponsive or having a seizure. You notice he got into your sugarless gum. Big deal, right? No red flags go up until the vet tells you that $1 pack of gum is going to cost you $7,000 in emergency veterinary services.

That is what can happen to pet parents unaware of the danger lurking in that innocent-looking pack of sugarless gum. It is so deadly that within 30 minutes, a dog can die from insulin shock if that doesn’t kill him liver failure will probably do it. If you are fortunate enough to reach a vet in time,  some dogs can be saved. Statistically, though, the odds are not good. If the dog survives the poisoning, the damage was done to the liver often can significantly shorten their life expectancy.

Epidemic Proportions

Xylitol first gained widespread attention in vet circles in 2005, when the first documented cases of poisonings jumped from 70 cases in 2004 to 170 cases in 2005. At that time, xylitol products were relatively new to the United States marketplace, but with the increase in availability and the number of other products containing xylitol, poisonings have increased significantly since that time.

In 2007, when the ASPCA Poison Control Center began to tally cases involving xylitol, that year the center fielded 1,764 calls. In 2011, the call volume reached 3,045, an increase of 73 percent.

“I’ll get calls from people saying ‘My Great Dane just ate two M&Ms,’ but xylitol is far worse than chocolate,” said Dr. Tony Johnson, a clinical assistant professor at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine and an emergency-medicine consultant at VIN.

What? I'm just checking for freshness!

It’s Not Just Gum

These days, xylitol is in far more products than sugarless chewing gum. Today the ubiquitous sugar substitute can be in anything from cupcakes to toothpaste. You can buy it in the granulated form to bake with, as a sweetener for cereals and beverages. It’s in peanut butter, pastilles, mints, candy, sugar-free baked goods, sugar-free soft drinks, sugar-free Jello, chewable vitamins, omega-3 supplements, powdered protein, cough drops, nasal sprays, dental rinses, toothpaste, nicotine gum and prescription medication; the list goes on.

Veterinary Medications Made with Xylitol

Patty Khuly author and veterinarian cautions, “What’s worse (for veterinarians, especially) are that the human versions of many drugs, especially the children’s elixirs, are now being formulated with xylitol for greater pediatric palatability. Unfortunately, these lower-dose preparations are exactly what some of our smaller patients require. Because there are no animal equivalents for many drugs we use every day, kids’ drugs are often the next best thing.”

“But veterinarians have only recently become aware of this new change to many of the same pediatric drugs we’ve been prescribing for years. I nearly poisoned one of my patients last week after the pharmacist called to ask whether I might prefer a pediatric elixir format of Pfizer’s Neurontin since the smaller doses weren’t available in a capsule. Luckily I’d just read an advisory and knew to ask. But still … she might have died!”

Mouthwash for Dogs?

It’s difficult to believe, but xylitol is also in mouthwash for pets.  Aquadent marketed for canine oral care is mixed in their drinking water to provide antibacterial benefits. Frankly, I’d much rather have the bacteria because the bottle formula contains 2.5 grams of xylitol as well in small packets – enough to kill a dog.

Xylitol even is impregnated in fabric for a “cooling” effect. Ask a veterinarian whether a dog could be harmed by chewing a xylitol-containing bed and not even veterinary toxicologists can answer that one. With the number of products containing xylitol growing, as is the number of poisoning cases, if you have a dog, it would be wise to read the ingredient list of items in your home.

“I can remember seeing cases where we didn’t know what the dog got into, and now we realize what it was,” Johnson recalled. “Back then, if I heard a dog got into chewing gum, my reaction would have been ‘Let him chew it.'”

“I wonder what else we’re going to find out is toxic in five years?” Johnson mused.

Hmm, I wonder…

Just One or Two Pieces

Just how much xylitol can kill a dog? Simple answer – hardly any. It takes very little xylitol to cause signs of toxicity in dogs. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) has reported that dogs ingesting greater than 0.1 g/kg of xylitol should be considered at risk. At doses exceeding 0.5 g/kg, there is a risk of liver failure (hepatic necrosis) and other more serious effects.

It is often difficult to determine exactly how many grams of xylitol were ingested. Although the xylitol content is more commonly listed on food products, this is not the case with many chewing gums. In general, it is estimated that one or two pieces of gum could cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar in a 20 lb dog. For example, a Terrier named Ladybug Graham, who weighed 9.8 lbs died from eating just one piece of gum. One piece.

Signs & Symptoms

Vomiting is usually the first sign of toxicity, and then in 30-60 minutes, hypoglycemia can occur. The signs of hypoglycemia can be lethargy, ataxia (stumbling around), collapse, and seizure. In cases where gum with xylitol was ingested, the hypoglycemia may be delayed for up to 12 hours. In severe, over doses, some dogs do not display the signs of hypoglycemia before the onset of liver failure (hepatic necrosis). Instead, lethargy and vomiting occurred 9-72 hours after exposure. They developed petechia (small spots of bleeding on the skin and mucous membranes like gums), ecchymosis (larger spots of bleeding seen on the skin and mucous membranes), and gastric hemorrhage (bleeding in the stomach).

Get Your Dog to Vomit

The best and the safest method for inducing vomiting is to give your dog hydrogen peroxide. It is recommended to use 3% Hydrogen Peroxide from a fresh, unopened bottle. Old peroxide does not work well as it can go flat and have no foaming ability.

Try this: Pour one tablespoon of fresh Hydrogen Peroxide on a slice of plain old white bread and put it in your dog’s food bowl. If your dog has not vomited in 15 minutes, double the dose. If your dog has not vomited after that, consult your veterinarian to induce vomiting by another means. Never use peroxide more than twice because of the risk of more serious gastrointestinal irritation. If a second dose is needed, this needs to be given orally with a syringe or other means being careful that the dog is swallowing it and it is not getting into their lungs.

Call Poison Control

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is a 24-hour, 365-day facility staffed by veterinarians, many of whom are board-certified toxicologists/veterinary toxicologists. The staff provides assistance to pet owners, and specific diagnostic and treatment recommendations to veterinarians about toxic chemicals and dangerous plants, products or substances. They also provide extensive veterinary toxicology consulting on a wide array of subjects, including legal cases, formulation issues, product liability, and regulatory reporting. For more information on potentially dangerous substances in the home or to reach the APCC, call (888) 426-4435 or visit www.aspca.org/apcc.

Prognosis

In a nutshell – generally speaking – the prognosis is not very good. The prognosis is good for uncomplicated hypoglycemia when treatment can be instituted promptly. Liver failure and bleeding disorders generally carry a poor prognosis. Dogs that develop stupor or coma have a grave prognosis. In other words, they’re screwed.

Poisoned Pets’ Opinion

Read your labels. Not just for sweetened items, it could be in many other products. Worse, manufacturers are not obliged to inform consumers when they change a formula; the change could quietly appear in itty-bitty print in the ingredient list. Here is another area where companies lack corporate responsibility and transparency is limited by their myopic view of the bottom line: profit at any cost.  Sure, xylitol may be the greatest thing since sliced bread to a manufacturer looking to cash in on the massive marketplace of the increasing population of obese Americans, but for dogs  – it’s deadly.


Read more about it here:

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p class=”entry-title” style=”text-align: justify;”>Awareness of xylitol toxicity in dogs still lacking – VIN
Xylitol Toxicosis in Dogs, Journal of Veterinary Medicine

dog cat poisoned pets safe food warnings news recalls alerts

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (32) Write a comment

  1. I lost sweet girl to xylitol 5 years ago. I’m still trying to find closure. I cry as I type this. She was only 4 years old. Chewed up peice of orbit kids gum…killed my babygirl

    Reply

  2. That’s really a great content for a cat or dog owner, I wasn’t know these things about sweetener but thanks for thinking content

    Reply

  3. After attending our daughter’s dance recital yesterday, I took her to lunch and my husband went home. He opened the door to our 75 pound black lab laying on his side shaking uncontrollably. He was conscious, but not responding to him. Our standard poodle was laying on the floor next to him, trying to comfort him. My husband got home around 3:30 PM and I left the house around 1:00 PM so this all happened between those hours. My husband saw a bottle of sugar free Ice Cube brand gum laying on the floor, chewed open, and empty. My husband picked him up, put him in the van and headed straight the the emergency vet. All while our poodle sat in the corner howling (which she never does).

    My husband called me and explained what was going on. He didn’t think he was going to make it. I had never heard of gum being deadly to dogs so I started reading about it. I was horrified by what I read and was trying to prepare myself and my daughter that things didn’t look too good. The vet said they didn’t know the prognosis but they were going to monitor him overnight and we would just have to wait and see. My husband went back to see him before coming home and Boomer was able to lift his head, wag his tail a little, but then had another seizure. It was a scary, emotional evening.

    We got a call this morning that Boomer’s liver numbers raised slightly overnight. From 155 to 165. From what I read, they could have been much higher. They said he was well enough to come home, but we would have to have our family vet monitor his liver blood levels for awhile. From what I am gathering, he is going to survive.

    I feel responsible for leaving the gum on the table by the couch. It never crossed my mind that he would get into it. However, I do know that if I would have known about xylitol and how poisonous it is to dogs, I wouldn’t have purchased that brand and if I did, I would be much more aware not to leave it laying around. WHY AREN’T THERE WARNING LABELS ON THESE BOTTLES?

    Thanks for listening to my story. I feel blessed that he has survived and praying there is no permanent damage.

    Reply

    • I am so sorry Michelle for your scare. Unfortunately, the human food industry is under no legal obligation to warn consumers about health risks associated with xylitol when the food is intended for human consumption.

      The most that pet advocates like me can do is educate and warn consumers of the dangers. I wish too that warnings could be on every product, including human medications, that includes xylitol. An example: I had a woman recently who lost her dog after her vet prescribed gabapentin in an oral solution, a medicine intended for human consumption, for her dog that was sweetened with xylitol. After her dog died she wrote the FDA and they replied that the law does not require warnings on off-label use of human medications for animals.

      Reply

  4. Erythritol is non toxic to dogs. It sweetens similarly to Xylitol. It is actually better for your teeth than xylitol. I think many of us should start a campaign to get companies to switch to erythritol in products to save our dogs’ lives. If we can make enough noise, we can make a difference

    Reply

  5. So sorry I didn’t read this BEFORE my poor little furbaby died this weekend. We have been giving our Mimi liquid gabapentin for a seizure disorder & arthritis pain for some time in a small dose with extra doses when she had a seizure to prevent clusters. After a seizure 10/4 and that extra dose, our dog began to rapidly go downhill. By Saturday she couldn’t stand, lift her head, bark, etc. We made the difficult decision after 30+ hours of no improvement that we should put our beloved 14 year old bichon down and decided a medical eval was pointless. I had the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right with all this and began searching online for causes. We stumbled across info on the dangers of liquid gabapentin and made a call the the pharmacy and found they had been dispensing hers in a suspension containing xylitol. So for 6 or so months she has been taking small daily doses of the poison xylitol. My vet felt that our dog would have reacted quickly to the xylitol not all these months later. I gather that was correct however your article points out that the liver damage is a forgone conclusion if the hypoglycemia doesn’t take them first. My Walgreens literature did not list the ingredients so I didn’t know I was poisoning my dog but I will be making my own poster in hopes of getting the word out on this danger and am currently awaiting a call from Walgreens management as to why my canine received a prescription with xylitol when the prescription was clearly written for a dog.

    Reply

    • I am horrified.

      I had forgotten know that some medications are formulated in solutions containing xylitol. It is utter madness. I don’t know who to blame first? Probably your vet. It was your vets responsibility to make it abundantly clear to the pharmacist that the medication was for a dog and therefore must not contain xylitol, but have the gabapentin suspended in some other solution.

      Second – had the pharmacy been aware the drug was for a dog (there is always a risk that some drugs suspended in an oral solution might contain sorbitol/sucrose/xylitol), it is their responsibily is that they should have known never to dispense that drug formula to a dog! It is complete and utter negligence.

      Ultimately, the blame falls squarely on your vet.

      Pharmacists are trained enough to know about the drugs they are dispensing as that is their job. Did they know that the drug was being prescribed for a dog> If not, they should have known.

      Personally, I don’t feel that Walgreens or any other chain store is to blame (although I’m sure there are plenty of lawyers who would take your case) for the failure of your veterinarian and the pharmacist(s).

      But what is so agonizing is that the drug was repeatedly dispensed by your pharmacist to your dog is horrific. I would like to know the drug company who manufactured the drug and their policy and dispensing directions. Typically there should be a warning in the patient insert: Do NOT give to dogs or something like that – at least I would hope so. If you give me the name of the drug manufacturer and I will look into this further. If you can – I’d like to see a copy of the patient insert – your pharmacist should have supplied you with one along with the prescription as they are legally obligated to do.

      Reply

      • It is horrifying to think that in the information age we are living in that Walgreens does not have software red flags that could have prevented my dog ingesting xylitol at their hands. We do not blame our vets. They made it abundantly clear the script was for a dog. The name on the bottle even says “Mimi the DOG” as does the literature printed out by Walgreens. The receipt evens reads “PetRX”. Our vets are the only people, besides yourself, who have responded to our multitude of calls & emails but today is only day #2 so thank you for being so responsive. It means a lot.

        I knew about the dangers of xylitol and would have never given this to our pet had I known the suspension contained it..Sadly, I trusted Walgreens when I read the ingredients list saying “gabapentin” only. Sunday afternoon I phoned our local store and asked the pharmacist to read me the suspension ingredients and he read off the list from the collateral in the Acella Pharmaceuticals package. I wrote Acella to find out the amount of xylitol so I could research it further but truly have no idea who in the veterinary world is researching xylitol. Acella has not responded yet.

        My husband has written the FDA to ask about proper disclosure and product labeling since both were missing on our dog’s prescription and the “your personal prescription information” fact sheet provided us by Walgreens. My goal is to get this out to as many pet owners as possible so Mimi’s life wasn’t lost in vain. Thank you for being interested. I have been sharing the heck out of your article.

        Reply

        • Thanks for helping us in bringing this tragedy to our attention. I will do everything I can to bring your story to light. First, I’ve got some digging to do. And I will keep you posted as soon as I’ve made some headway.

          Reply

  6. Always have hydrogen peroxide on hand.. can make your dog vomit up anything they have eaten recently. We gave our 50 lb dog half a shot glass and it worked within ten minutes.

    Reply

    • Wow! That’s fantastic. But how do you get the hydrogen peroxide down a dog’s throat? Well, I guess if it’s only a half a shot glass that can’t be too difficult. Thanks for sharing that great information Deg.

      Reply

      • This is months after your question but in Cairn Terrier Rescue we find that using a syringe is the best way. (Probably the only way.) Wed use a full syringe for our pups–the kind you can buy for giving kids their medicine. Also, the hydrogen peroxide needs to be fresh! If the bottle is open more than 3 days it probably will not work. We tell all our foster and adoptive homes to keep 2 bottles on hand. That is because if you use one, you might forget to replace it. Or, you dog might get into something else before you can replace it. With two bottles, you are always prepared. Always! At well under $1/bottle, most can afford to keep 2 bottles around.

        Reply

  7. Pingback: Xylitol: A Deadly Danger to Dogs | The Hearty Soul

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  10. We lost our little 9 yo cheagle today to this poison. It was not something I ever want to see an animal go through ever again or a pet owner to experience. The word needs to spread about this as it has about chocolate and grapes potential to harm canines, we nor most everyone of our friends were unaware of xylitol’s effect on dogs and this stuff was devastating to ours..

    Reply

    • OMG, you poor thing! I agree, there are many consumers such as yourself that didn’t know about xylitol until it was too late. I think every vet office should have edu poster up with graphics listing all the food toxins for dogs as well as cats in their offices. Xylitol is still not a widely known toxicant as chocolate and grapes, etc. More education should be done! I wonder, does the ASPCA have a poster? I will check. I just spent the last two hours looking and I cannot find one anywhere on the net. There are plenty of lists, but none with graphics. One more thing to add to my to do list – find one or design one! If you find one – let me know!

      Reply

      • My dog was poisoned yesterday by xylitol. She happened to get into some gum my son had in his room. She went into a seizure and we ran her to the vet hospital. She has been in critical care where they are monitoring her glucose levels and liver enzymes. Just heard from them and her liver enzymes have went down since yesterday. I believe she vomited most of the gum up during her seziure. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. Today I am angry. Angry that I had no idea this poison was in gum and other things. Angry that this is not public knowledge. Angry that so many people have lost their best friends. We are so lucky that Luna pulled through this. Many others are not. My heat breaks for anyone who has witnessed this or has lost their dogs to this. Where are the warning labels? Where is the public outcry about this? How about class action lawsuits? Why is this not promoted like spaying and neutering? Something needs to be done and something needs to change now! Where do we start?

        Reply

        • I am so sorry Shannon for your baby and thank God she pulled through! There are a number of well-publicized campaigns, but there are more and more foods being made with xylitol (like peanut butter) and people just don’t realize how many things it can be in.

          Here are a few of the better sources about information about xylitol:

          Xylitol and Your Dog: Danger, Paws Off(FDA)
          Sweetener xylitol can be toxic to dogs (AVMA)

          Pet Poison Helpline: Xylitol

          For more information on xylitol and other products poisonous to pets, visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center by logging on to http://www.aspca.org and clicking on Animal Poison Control in the left-hand column.

          Reply

          • As I mentioned in my letter if you take a look at the websites I sent you they have some good material. The AVMA, the FDA, the ASPCA, and the CDC all published a number of helpful articles on the subject of xylitol.

            And no, it’s not enough and many people (like me) feel the products for humans that have xylitol in them should come with warnings to keep away from dogs. There was a campaign going on working on that issue, but I don’t know what became of it.

            I’m sure there have been online petitions but those don’t really do anything.

            Basically, you’re up against Big Food and they will fight tooth and nail to keep warnings off of their products.

            Public service campaigns are all we have and as you mentioned vets could certainly do a better job of warning consumers.

            I wish I could do more – :(

  11. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that ALL sugar alcohols are bad stuff: manitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc. Basically, any artificial sweetener ending with the suffix -ol. I discovered this after experiencing much GI distress after eating some Breyer’s “No Sugar Added” ice cream. Ditto after eating some kind of sugarless breath mints with xylitol. I decided I’d rather take my chances with good ole’ sucrose, better known as table sugar. I’d rather have the few extra calories afforded by sugar or honey or agave nectar in my coffee or chewing gum and simply practice good dental hygiene afterwards. In my opinion, all sugar substitutes are BAD, and I don’t care that they are all approved by the FDA and have the status GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe.) Too many people and animals get sick off that stuff, ’nuff said.

    Reply

    • Lordy, are they as toxic as xylitol? Oh no, looks like I’ve got some more research and another post to do. Ugh. Does it ever end? Thanks for the heads up, as this is not my area of expertise and was out of my depth with this one until I did the research. It is really scary stuff. I hope I made that clear enough to pet parents.

      Personally, I don’t eat ANY of that cr*p, I spent years suffering from Gawdawful health issues, chronic cluster headaches mainly, so there is a list a mile long of stuff I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. As if being vegan wasn’t enough, now I’m going to go off gluten. I am not looking forward to that. I LOVE French bread. Dang it. Why does being good have to be so hard.

      Good for you for being so savvy, unfortunately many pet parents are still unaware of the danger xylitol poses (according to the “experts” – the ASPCA APCC). But that’s what they have us for!

      Again, thanks for keeping me abreast!

      Oh, I almost forgot – don’t buy store-bought honey – most of it is fake. Seriously. I only buy from local bee-keepers at the farmers market or local honey from the health food store. There are so many cool/healthy alts out there.

      Mollie

      Reply

      • Mollie, I only buy honey made in Texas and/or in our local Farmer’s Market where I can actually meet the beekeeper. I have copied a section from Wikipedia’s page on sugar alcohols which may be a starting point for more research. Of course, I would do other research since Wikipedia is generally good, but can sometimes be flawed. Also, any chemistry text, esp. an organic chemistry book would have lots of detail on the chemical structure of these sugar alcohols:

        “Sugar alcohol From
        Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

        A sugar alcohol (also known as a polyol,[1] polyhydric alcohol, or polyalcohol) is a hydrogenated form of carbohydrate, whose carbonyl group (aldehyde or ketone, reducing sugar) has been reduced to a primary or secondary hydroxyl group (hence the alcohol). Sugar alcohols have the general formula H(HCHO)n+1H, whereas sugars have H(HCHO)nHCO. In commercial foodstuffs sugar alcohols are commonly used in place of table sugar (sucrose), often in combination with high intensity artificial sweeteners to counter the low sweetness. Of these, xylitol is perhaps the most popular due to its similarity to sucrose in visual appearance and sweetness. Sugar alcohols do not contribute to tooth decay.[2][3]

        Some common sugar alcohols:

        Glycol (2-carbon)
        Glycerol (3-carbon)
        Erythritol (4-carbon)
        Threitol (4-carbon)
        Arabitol (5-carbon)
        Xylitol (5-carbon)
        Ribitol (5-carbon)
        Mannitol (6-carbon)
        Sorbitol (6-carbon)
        Dulcitol (6-carbon)
        Fucitol (6-carbon)
        Iditol (6-carbon)
        Isomalt (12-carbon)
        Maltitol (12-carbon)
        Lactitol (12-carbon)
        Polyglycitol

        Both disaccharides and monosaccharides can form sugar alcohols; however, sugar alcohols derived from disaccharides (e.g. maltitol and lactitol) are not entirely hydrogenated because only one aldehyde group is available for reduction.

        The simplest sugar alcohol, ethylene glycol, is the sweet, but notoriously toxic, chemical used in antifreeze. The higher sugar alcohols are for the most part nontoxic.”

        That last sentence scares me: “…..are for the MOST PART nontoxic.”

        Reply

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