Barbara “food for thought” Mikkelson @ Snopes.com
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in candy and chewing gum. It is also found in some pharmaceuticals and oral health products such as chewable vitamins and throat lozenges. It can also be used in home baking.
While Xylitol is safe for humans, it can be harmful to dogs. The compound doesn’t affect glucose levels in people, but when ingested by dogs it can cause a dangerous surge of insulin. (In as little as 15 minutes, the blood sugar of a dog that has eaten gum containing Xylitol may register a marked drop in blood sugar.) At higher doses, Xylitol is believed toxic to the canine liver.
Just three grams of Xylitol can kill a 65-pound dog. Because the amount of sweetener used in sugar-free chewing gums varies by manufacturer and product, the number of sticks of gum that would prove fatal to a pooch of that size can’t be stated with precision. As a general rule of thumb, between eight and ten pieces of gum might be deadly to a 65-pound canine, but a smaller dog could easily die after ingesting far less (perhaps as few as two sticks of gum).
A dog that has eaten an item containing Xylitol can be rapidly hit by a dangerous drop in blood sugar that causes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, collapse, and seizures. Those symptoms can develop within 30 minutes, and a dog so afflicted will need immediate veterinary treatment to survive. Without help, irreversible brain trauma occurs and the patient dies.
Xylitol also appears to cause severe liver damage in dogs within 24 hours. According to a study published in the 1 October 2006 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, of eight dogs who had ingested Xylitol, five died of liver failure, and an additional three canine deaths that occurred after the study was completed were also determined to stem from that cause. While more research needs to be done to categorically prove that Xylitol actually causes canine liver failure, at this time indications point that way.
If you think your dog has consumed sugarless gum or any other product containing Xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately. Most likely you will be instructed to bring your pet in to have vomiting induced and IV fluids started, but if you live more than an hour away from a vet, you may have to induce vomiting at home.
Veterinary treatment generally involves 24-hour hospitalization and infusion with intravenous fluids containing glucose. Your dog’s blood sugar will be monitored every few hours and the dose of glucose being fed to him by IV adjusted as needed. If liver values are normal after 24 hours, your dog will be sent home.
As to how to prevent such poisonings, recognize that dogs are long on sweet tooth and short on judgment and act accordingly. Do not leave tasty items lying around. Put sugar-free gums and candies where dogs can’t get at them. Keep chewable vitamins out of the way too. If you bake with Xylitol, store the resultant goodies well out of your pets’ reach and do not hand-feed them bits of Xylitol-laced muffin as a treat no matter how much they beg.
Never rely on the presumption that what is safe for a human to ingest is equally safe for your pets. (Raisins and grapes, for instance, can prove deadly to your pooch.)