Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is safe for humans but toxic to dogs. It has been used as an ingredient in many sugar-free chewing gums (Orbit, Stride, Trident) for years, but its use is expanding to more foods, including some baked goods, desserts, even sugar-free peanut butters. The human food industry has recognized its benefits for preventing tooth decay and lowering sugar intake for human diabetics, but for dogs, xylitol can be lethal.

When a dog ingests xylitol, two major health crises occur. His pancreas responds to what it thinks is real sugar and releases too much insulin. This insulin surge causes the dog’s blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels causing hypoglycemia within 30 minutes of ingestion. This hypoglycemia can then cause the dog to get weak, collapse, and even seizure. The second major health crisis is xylitol’s toxic effect on the liver. The liver can suffer partial or total failure and cell death. This liver damage happens later (like 8 to 12 hours) than the hypoglycemia which is more immediate.

The best way to prevent xylitol toxicity is to block any access to foods and gums that contain it. Read labels – check and make sure you are not unintentionally stocking it for yourself or your pets. If there is a possible ingestion (like your dog went into your purse and you see empty Orbit gum wrappers), call your veterinarian or animal poison control immediately. Describe how much you think your dog may have ingested. Inducing vomiting can potentially save your dog’s life by prevention of absorption of xylitol. Intravenous fluids with dextrose and monitoring of liver values should then be continued for at least 24 hours.

In a poison emergency, call ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435.

They charge a $65 fee, but if you have a Home Again microchip and are enrolled in their program, the consultation is free.

By Lisa Feinstein, DVM