Everything You Need to Know About Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
Xylitol is a common sugar substitute found in many different types of sugar-free foods and other products for human consumption. Although it isn’t dangerous to people, cats, and ferrets, it is toxic to dogs. Continue reading to learn how to avoid xylitol poisoning in dogs and what to do if you think your pup ate a product containing xylitol.
What types of foods contain xylitol?
Look out for these common foods that might contain xylitol:
- sugar-free candy
- peanut butter
- baked goods
- drink powders (lemonade, iced tea, etc.)
Frequently, dogs accidentally consume xylitol by eating their owner’s pack of gum, or by unknowingly being given sugar-free peanut butter containing xylitol (many people use peanut butter to administer medications to their pets or as a treat). Be aware, however, that xylitol can also be an ingredient in medications, vitamins, chapstick, mouth wash, toothpaste, mints, and more.
There are many other sugar substitutes (stevia, sorbitol) that are not toxic to dogs, so be sure to read the labels when you buy any sugar-free items for consumption. Pay special attention if you’re buying these items for your dog, or if your dog is the type to get into things or “counter surf”.
Why is xylitol toxic to dogs?
There are two main ways in which xylitol causes problems in dogs. The first is that it lowers the blood glucose (sugar) levels, and the second is that it attacks the liver.
Xylitol causes a significant release of insulin from the pancreas. This, in turn, drives down the blood glucose rapidly. Normally, insulin is secreted by the pancreas in smaller amounts when you eat food, enabling the glucose in the food to get into the cells and be used by your body’s tissues and organs for energy.
When a dog’s blood sugar dips down below normal range (~60-120 mg/dL just like humans), hypoglycemia occurs. Hypoglycemic dogs are subject to weakness, tremors, ataxia (unsteady, drunken movements), and even seizures.
If left untreated, signs of liver damage can occur and manifest as lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, blood clotting disorders, and jaundice/icterus (yellowing of the skin and the “whites” of the eyeballs). You may not see these signs until 2-3 days after your dog eats a food containing xylitol. Unfortunately, it’s unknown how xylitol causes liver damage.
What should I do if my dog eats food containing xylitol?
Although xylitol typically decreases blood glucose within 30 minutes, some formulations may release slowly and cause signs 12+ hours after consumption. If your dog gets into xylitol, it’s important to call a Poison Controlhelpline and start a case, giving them the information of the exact product and amount consumed (or suspected). If possible, do this while driving your dog to the vet so treatment can be started as soon as possible (ideally before symptoms develop).
Treatment for Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs
Blood work will be done by your vet to determine blood glucose and liver enzyme levels. If your dog has recently eaten the xylitol, your vet may induce emesis (cause your dog to vomit up their stomach contents), hospitalize, place an IV catheter, administer supportive fluid therapy (including dextrose to bring the blood glucose levels back up), and monitor until stable. Activated charcoal does not seem to bind xylitol well, so it is not advised.
If, for example, the xylitol was consumed hours ago and liver damage has already occurred, hospitalization and supportive care may be more involved and continued for several days. Cases treated promptly with minimal liver damage tend to get better without permanent health concerns. Unfortunately, xylitol poisoning may be fatal or cause liver failure, leading to euthanasia.
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