A beagle looking at a box of chocolates

Xylitol poisoning

Xylitol is one of the lesser known causes of toxicity in dogs, but it is extremely harmful. As the trend for sugar free products grows, so does the inclusion of sweeteners in food. Xylitol is a naturally occuring sugar alcohol that is often substituted for normal sugar in baking, chocolate, sweets, peanut butter, jams, honey, chewing gum, toothpaste, chewable vitamin tablets, and many more. Sugar-free chewing gum often contains a large dose of xylitol per piece.

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Symptoms of xylitol poisoning

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Collapse
  • Coma

Causes of xylitol poisoning

In smaller doses, xylitol can cause a sudden, life threatening drop in blood sugar within minutes of being eaten. Signs are usually seen within 30 minutes of consumption, but it can take as long as 12 hours. The canine body confuses xylitol with real sugar, which makes it produce more insulin. Insulin removes the real sugar from the bloodstream, causing the dog to develop dangerously low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia).

Xylitol is a potent poison for dogs. It has been estimated that as little as 50-100mg of xylitol per kilogram of body weight, can cause hypoglycemia. Some brands of sugar free chewing gum can contain up to one gram per piece, which is why it is such a risk to dogs. In larger doses it can also cause severe damage to the liver, and lead to liver failure.

What can you do to help your dog?

If you think that your dog has eaten something that may contain xylitol, contact your registered vet clinic straight away.

Always check the ingredients before you buy chocolate, sweets or treats that you plan to share with your dog. Avoid purchasing anything that contains xylitol if there is any chance that your dog might help themselves whilst your back is turned

Before using peanut butter or honey as a treat, make sure you have checked the ingredients first. Do this every time you buy a new pot, as brands can change their recipe.

Store human foods well away from where your dog can reach them. Dogs are very clever and often find ways of climbing onto tables and worktops, so make sure everything is put away in cupboards and doors are properly fastened.

Treatment of xylitol poisoning

Visit your vet immediately. They will usually try to induce vomiting, by giving your dog an injection, to reduce the chance of absorption of the xylitol. They will then monitor your dog’s blood glucose levels. If your dog is already showing clinical signs, your vet will treat these accordingly. Treatment can be extensive if your dog has already developed liver damage.

TVM UK have developed an easy to remember acronym S.P.E.E.D, to help owners if they think that their dog has eaten something poisonous. Your vet only has a short, limited time frame to try and minimise the absorption of poisons, so an immediate appointment is essential and potentially life-saving.

S - Stop access to any poison. It may seem obvious but stop your dog eating any more of the substance.

P - Phone the vet. Keep your vet’s phone number and their emergency (out of hours) number handy, in case you ever need them.

E - Emergency appointment. You cannot ‘wait and see’ with poisons, as many do not affect your pet straight away. Some can take several days to cause symptoms, all the while doing damage to the internal organs. Getting your dog seen immediately gives you the best chance for treatment to be effective.

E - Evidence - knowing what the potential poison is will really help your vet make a rapid diagnosis and create the best treatment protocol for a successful recovery. If you have a label of the substance, take it with you.

D - Don’t delay. You cannot afford to wait. Act straight away!

Further information about xylitol poisoning is available from The Blue Cross.

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