I have recently seen several cases of xylitol toxicity in my clinic and I am surprised at how little my clients know about this potentially deadly problem. I hope this article spreads some awareness.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is commonly used in gum, toothpaste, candy and certain foods. Its use has become increasingly popular among those who wish to avoid the extra calories associated with sugar (sucrose) and with diabetic people. It is a very effective sweetener but it does not affect blood sugar in humans. In dogs however, it can “fool” the pancreas gland into thinking that there is sugar in the bloodstream and causes it to release insulin. This spike in insulin causes the real sugar in the bloodstream (glucose) to become very low. Xylitol can also cause death of liver cells which can result in liver failure.
The average stick of xylitol-sweetened gum can contain 1-2 grams of xylitol. This is enough to cause liver damage in a 10 – 20 lb dog. Many times my clients are unable to tell me how much their dog ate so I always assume that any ingestion is a toxic dose. It is important to know that the symptoms of liver failure may take up to 24 hours to develop so you don’t want to wait until your dog is sick to take it to your veterinarian.
Common symptoms of xylitol toxicity are vomiting, weakness, diarrhea and seizures.
All cases should be seen by a veterinarian. If help is not immediately available you should attempt to make the dog vomit as long as the dog is not unconscious or having a seizure. This can be done with hydrogen peroxide (1ml per pound) orally. If vomiting hasn’t occurred in 1 minutes then re-dose.
The cases of xylitol intoxication in veterinary medicine are rapidly increasing. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center the reported cases have gone from 2 in 2002 to over 1900 in 2007. That number was expected to double in 2008.
The take-home message is that all cases should be considered to be serious and life threatening, and every effort should be made to keep xylitol-containing products out of your pet’s reach.