Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in plant tissues and is widely used as a sugar substitute. It has 40% fewer calories than refined sugar but tastes just as sweet. Xylitol is found in many fruits and veggies including berries, corn, mushrooms and plums.
Xylitol is great for diabetic people as it has a much lower glycaemic index than regular sugar. This means it will have little to no effect on blood sugar levels.
Research has also shown that Xylitol is effective in reducing the formation of plaque and stimulates saliva production, so for us, it is a useful product.
Unfortunately for our dogs, Xylitol is toxic. When humans eat products containing Xylitol our insulin levels are not affected. However, when dogs ingest Xylitol it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which triggers a sudden release of insulin.
This causes a significant decrease in blood sugar, potentially in as little as 10 minutes. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can be fatal. Xylitol can also cause liver damage which can develop into liver failure if treatment is not administered quickly.
A 50mg dose of Xylitol per pound of body weight (100mg/kg) is enough to trigger hypoglycemia in dogs. The higher the dose above this, the greater the risk of liver damage. Gum is one of the biggest causes of Xylitol poisoning in dogs. Some brands contain 1g of Xylitol in each piece of gum, so two pieces would be enough to cause hypoglycemia in a 40-45kg dog.
Xylitol has many names, so check your food labels for any of the following:
- Birch sugar
- Xylit or Xylite
It is found in many foods such as gum, candy, protein bars and powders, jams, honey (not raw honey), chocolate, toothpaste and mouthwash, medicines and vitamin supplements.
What to do if my dog ate Xylitol
If you suspect your dog has eaten something containing Xylitol, you should contact your veterinarian, even if your dog seems fine. Symptoms can occur between 10 and 90 minutes after ingestion.
You should not try to induce vomiting unless the vet advises you to. If you can, take a sample of the product your dog ate with you. The packaging will show the amount of Xylitol which can help your vet to treat your dog more effectively.
Watch for these symptoms:
- Poor coordination
- Difficulty standing
Your veterinarian will immediately induce vomiting and take blood samples. Unfortunately, there is no specific antidote for Xylitol, so your vet will prescribe supplemental treatments such as IV fluids and medication to bring blood sugars back to a normal range. For dogs who have suffered liver damage, the vet will prescribe liver protectants to prevent any further tissue degradation.
The best way to prevent accidental ingestion of Xylitol is to store your dental products, medication and beauty products away so that your dog cannot access them.
If you keep gum, candies or mints in your purse, always ensure your purse is out of reach.