Xylitol, a class of sugar alcohol is becoming increasingly common in human foods as a result of its sweetening ability without adding any sugar. However, this poses a risk to dogs who can be poisoned with even a small amount of the substance, being even more toxic than chocolate.
Over the past several years, the Center for Veterinary Medicine within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received an increasing number of reports of dogs being poisoned by xylitol in seemingly harmless human foods. Often used as a lower calorie sugar substitute, xylitol is found in sweetened sugar-free candy, such as mints and chocolate bars, chewing mints, baked goods, cough syrup, chewable adult and children vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste, artificially sweetened peanut and nut butters, over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and most artificiality sweetened desserts. For those owners who like to spoil their dogs, make sure to skip the sugar-free ice cream or peanut butter. The most recent FDA report of xylitol poisoning was a dog who consumed “skinny” or sugar free ice cream.
You may be asking why xylitol is so harmful to dogs, but completely safe for humans to consume. In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas, therefore, blood sugar levels remain normal. However, in dog’s xylitol is rapidly released into the blood stream and triggers the pancreas to release insulin. This rapid release of insulin results in hypoglycemia, or a dramatic reduction in blood sugar occurring 10 to 60 minutes after xylitol consumption which only worsens with larger quantities of xylitol consumed. Hyperglycemia can cause vomiting, decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures and can quickly become life-threatening if not treated. In addition, xylitol poisoning has been more recently linked to cases of liver failure in dogs which ingested larger amounts of xylitol. Several of these dogs did not show any signs of hyperglycemia and immediately went into liver failure. At this point, prognosis for patients is poor as there is no antidote for xylitol poisoning and no treatment options for liver failure, with patients requiring 24/7 care.
To avoid xylitol poisoning, keep sugar free candies, and products out of your dog’s reach, and make sure you check the label on human products before giving them to your dog. Due to the harmfulness of hypoglycemia in dogs, if you suspect your dog ate a product containing xylitol it is suggested to take them to your vet or an emergency care clinic immediately.