Can eating chewing gum harm your dog?
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Can eating chewing gum harm your dog?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Whether you hate chewing gum and find people chewing it very annoying or never fail to finish a meal without a stick of gum at the end, one thing that we all know is that chewing gum is to be chewed only, and now swallowed! For those of us that were permitted to have chewing gum or bubble gum as children as well, we all remember dire warnings not to swallow the gum, and old wives tales that chewing gum sticks in your stomach and will not pass through the body for years, if at all.

As most of us have likely swallowed gum as a child and are still standing to tell about it, it is fair to say that a lot of the warnings we are given about eating and swallowing gum are not really true or accurate. However, dogs of course are not supposed to have chewing gum or bubble gum at all, and naturally, they do not understand the concept that something that tastes nice and that is designed to chew should be spat out and not swallowed!

Despite the fact that dogs are not supposed to eat chewing gum, dogs are also very good at scavenging for treats and food, and if you leave chewing gum lying around or drop a piece, there is a reasonable chance that some dogs will simply be waiting in the wings to gulp it down!

Trying to avoid your dog getting their paws on gum in the first place is obviously important, but if your dog does manage to eat a piece of gum or worse, a whole packet, is this dangerous to them, and what should you do? In this article, we will answer these questions.

Chewing gums and sweeteners

If you think for a minute about the risk that chewing gum might pose to your dog, the first thought you are likely to have is that the gum might get stuck in their digestive system, forming a potential blockage in their intestines or otherwise causing a physical obstruction or similar problem.

However, the main risk if your dog ingests chewing gum has less to do with the physical properties of the gum itself and how it will affect the body, and more to do with the ingredients contained within the gum itself.

While chewing gum’s sweetness was traditionally given by sugar, today, finding a chewing gum that is sweetened with sugar can be something of a challenge-the perceived dental benefits of gum and people’s reluctance to consume empty calories simply to freshen the breath mean that today, artificial sweeteners are far more common in gum than actual natural sugar.

These artificial sweeteners come in a wide variety of types, but the majority of them are very harmful to dogs. Xylitol, which is perhaps the most commonly used artificial sweetener in gum, is harmless to humans when taken in moderation, but can be very dangerous to dogs.

Because the biology of dogs is different to that of people, many things that are fine for us to eat are dangerous for our pets, because our own digestive systems have evolved to cope with them.

Xylitol and other common sweeteners used in chewing gum and sugar-free sweets can have an acute and serious effect on your dog’s health if ingested, causing hypoglycaemia (low blood: glucose levels) in small quantities and acute, irreversible and potentially fatal liver damage in larger quantities.

How much gum is a problem?

Not all chewing gums and bubble gums contain xylitol-natural sugar and another artificial sweetener called sorbitol (which is much less harmful) are commonly used, among a wide range of other sweetening agents too, some of which are toxic to dogs in low quantities and some of which are not.

The ingredients listing on the packaging of your gum will tell you what type of sweetener has been used in the product, and this information is important if your dog ingests gum, because it can help you to determine how serious of a problem you have on your hands.

How harmful it is to eat xylitol will vary based on a combination of your dog’s weight and how much xylitol they ingest. Bear in mind that even if you manage to intervene to remove the gum from your dog’s mouth before they swallow it, they will still have ingested some of the sweetener.

So, if your gum contains xylitol, how much gum would they be able to eat before it would be considered a problem?

A tab or stick of gum containing xylitol may contain anything up to half a gram of xylitol, and anything above half a gram of xylitol per kg of the dog’s weight will potentially trigger hypoglycaemia. This means that if a large dog eats just one or two sticks or tabs of gum, they are unlikely to suffer ill effects-although you may want to talk to your vet just to be on the safe side.

However, for puppies and small breeds like the Chihuahua who may only weigh a kg or two overall, just a stick or tab of gum is apt to make them quite ill. The more they have eaten, the higher the chances of liver damage occurring are, so contact your vet as an emergency, retaining the packaging of the gum and if possible, determining how much your dog ate, and follow their instructions.

Can chewing gum cause blockages?

Eating gum is of course not good for dogs, even if the gum contains sugar rather that a toxic sweetener, but does it actually remain in the body forever, or potentially cause a blockage? The answer is no-with some caveats.

Chewing gum cannot be digested by the body, which is why it does not break down when chewed, but it is much more likely to simply pass out of the body with the rest of the body’s waste than it is to linger somewhere in the digestive tract!

However, if your dog has eaten a lot of gum-how much constitutes “a lot” will vary depending on your dog’s size, but a good rule of thumb is to consider “a lot” more than a couple of tabs-the risk of a potential blockage or problem increases, so again, speak to your vet about how to proceed, particularly if your dog appears to be constipated, bloated, or suffering from digestive discomfort.

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