Xylitol is one of those scientific or chemical-sounding words that most of us are aware of having heard before, but not why or in what context. Xylitol is in fact a type of artificial sweetener, which is commonly used in a whole host of sugar-free foods for humans, most commonly chewing gum.
However, xylitol could potentially be the sweetening agent in more or less any sugar-free food including hard candies, cakes for people with diabetes, and also, as a standalone ingredient, which can be bought in tablet or powder form to sweeten drinks and to use for baking.
Why is any of this interesting to you as a dog owner? Because xylitol is also really poisonous to dogs. Because dogs are so keen on eating, xylitol is so common, and sweet stuff in general tastes good to dogs, the chances of a dog accidentally ingesting xylitol are reasonably high.
Not quite in the same ballpark as a dog getting their paws on a dangerous amount of also-poisonous chocolate, but still high enough to treat with respect.
If you use artificial sweeteners at home and aren’t sure what they are, or particularly if you eat foods containing xylitol, or keep xylitol on hand as a sweetener, it is really important to treat it just like chocolate or any other food that is poisonous to dogs, and to keep it well out of their reach.
It is also wise to acknowledge that accidents can and do happen and that dogs are really opportunistic about eating things they shouldn’t have, even at the risk of their health; and with this in mind, this article will outline the symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs, explain why it is poisonous, and share some information on how dogs are most likely to come into contact with xylitol. Read on to learn more.
Xylitol is a type of sugar substitute, but it is not real sugar; however, it tricks your dog’s body into thinking it is real sugar, resulting in their pancreas releasing more insulin in order to balance this out. However, this in fact results in an imbalance and too much insulin in the body, which removes any genuine sugar present in the body and causes the dog to fall into hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, which is dangerous.
Additionally, xylitol can cause liver failure in some dogs too, although why this happens in particular is not known.
Much like chocolate ingestion, how much xylitol is poisonous to dogs depends on a number of things, including how concentrated it was and how large the dog is too. However, just a single piece of chewing gum with xylitol in it could be enough to poison a smaller dog like a Yorkshire terrier.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute, and as such it could potentially be present in anything with lower sugar or that is sugar free, or kept as a baking ingredient or to sweeten drinks. However, its most common use is as an ingredient in sugar free chewing gum or bubble gum, and this is the format in which dogs are most likely to ingest it.
Chewing gum kept in pockets or turned out of pockets and bags onto tables, and otherwise left within reach of your dog can pose a risk.
Xylitol poisoning in dogs is usually faster in onset than most other types of poisoning, but this is not always the case. Symptoms may appear as soon as half an hour after ingestion, but might not develop until several hours have passed, which can make it harder to get to the bottom of the problem.
The symptoms of xylitol poisoning itself can vary from dog to dog and in terms of severity, and are common to various other types of poisoning too. The most common symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs are:
As xylitol poisoning becomes more acute and progresses further, you might also see:
If you know that your dog ate xylitol (regardless of how much they ate) contact your vet immediately for advice on how to proceed, even if they seem fine. If your dog displays symptoms like those above, even if you’re not sure if they ate xylitol, once more, contact your vet right away.
If you can get your dog to the vet soon enough after xylitol ingestion, your vet might give your dog some substances that will induce vomiting within a controlled setting, removing as much xylitol as possible from their system. However, you should never try to induce vomiting in your dog at home and/or without your vet’s direction, as this is not the appropriate course of action for all cases of xylitol poisoning and might make things worse.