Why is chewing gum poisonous to dogs?

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Why is chewing gum poisonous to dogs?

Chewing gum is one of the lesser-known everyday poisoning dangers to dogs. Read our article to learn what exactly is toxic in it and what to do if your dog ate some.

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The chewing gum ingredient that is toxic to dogs is called xylitol, a substance from the chemical family of sugar alcohols that naturally occurs in very small amounts in some fruits and vegetables (though the one in chewing gum is industrially produced).

Due to its sweet taste and negligible effects on blood sugar in people, xylitol is used as a sugar substitute in various products like confections, tooth paste, supplements, medication and most notoriously, chewing gum. It can also be found in sugar-free chocolate, sweets, peanut butter, jams, etc. The increasing trend for sugar-free products means that, in more and more products, sugar is replaced with a sweetener, often xylitol.

Unfortunately, xylitol is very toxic to dogs. Sugar-free chewing gum is a major source of xylitol intoxication in dogs because it tends to contain a large dose of xylitol per piece (some brands of gum contain up to 1g of xylitol per piece), it’s consumed around dogs and often randomly discarded.

The canine body confuses xylitol with real sugar, which makes their pancreas release a large amount of insulin in response to it. These high concentrations of insulin remove too much glucose from the bloodstream, causing the dog to develop dangerously low blood sugar levels (a condition called hypoglycaemia). The brain can’t use any other sources of energy than blood sugar so low levels of it will affect brain function very quickly.

This sudden drop in blood sugar can become life-threatening for a dog very fast, as quick as 30 minutes from consumption, though sometimes may take as long as 12 hours. Larger doses of xylitol can also cause severe damage to the liver, and lead to liver failure.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning

The severity of the symptoms that dogs show after a xylitol poisoning depends a lot on the amount of chewing gum (or other xylitol-containing product) they have had. Often the signs develop in this order:

  • vomiting,

  • lethargy,

  • disorientation,

  • seizures or tremors,

  • collapse,

  • coma.

When to see your vet

If your dog has eaten fresh chewing gum, take them to your vet immediately, time is of essence in this case.

If the chewing gum that the dog had has already been chewed, the chances of intoxication are lower, because xylitol gets released and absorbed quickly during chewing, so the person chewing the gum first likely already absorbed a big part of it. But although the risk is smaller, it’s not inexistent because usually it’s not known how long and thorough the gum had been chewed. It is still advisable to present your dog to your vet for an exam and a blood glucose measurement.

What to expect at the vet? Treatment of xylitol poisoning

If chewing gum ingestion is known and happened within a timeframe that allows it (2-2.5 hours), the vet may try to induce vomiting to reduce further absorption of xylitol.

Vets use a special substance that when injected under the skin, triggers vomiting in dogs (called an emetic), please do not attempt to induce vomiting at home, especially with salty water or salt, this could easily cause a salt toxicity and make the situation much worse.

The next step is to measure your dog’s blood glucose levels. This can be combined with a more extensive blood test to check the pancreas and liver function.

If your dog shows signs consistent with xylitol poisoning, they may need to be admitted so that these can be treated accordingly and blood sugar levels checked at regular intervals and corrected if necessary. The hospitalised treatment can be extensive if your dog is showing signs of pancreatitis or hepatitis.

What can you do

  • Don’t leave chewing gum lying around the house where the dog can reach it and dispose of the chewed gum by throwing it in bins that dogs can’t raid.
  • As a general rule, 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. There are a lot of foods that are perfectly safe for us but could easily poison a dog.
  • Always check the ingredients before you buy sugar-free chocolate, sweets or treats. Avoid purchasing anything that contains xylitol if there is the smallest chance that your dog might help themselves whilst your back is turned.
  • Check the ingredients in sugar-free products every time you buy a new batch, brands often change their recipe and may replace a previously used sweetener with xylitol.
  • Monitor your dog closely in areas where there are a lot of children and young people, as these are the age category most likely to chew gum, accidentally drop it or carelessly leave it stuck to benches or on the floor after chewing.
  • Register your pet with us and give us a call with any questions or concerns you may have about your pet, our vets are always happy to help with advice and guidance!

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