Check Your Labels: Xylitol’s A Common Ingredient That’s Toxic To Dogs

Keep it far away from your pup 🙅‍♀️

sick dog with sticks of gum

Foods that are too sugary are unhealthy for both people and dogs, so it might seem like sugar-free foods would be a better option as a treat for your pup. But a lot of sugar-free products contain an ingredient called xylitol that’s toxic to dogs.

Xylitol (aka birch sugar) is an artificial sweetener that causes low blood sugar in dogs, which is super dangerous, so you should keep anything that contains xylitol far away from your pup.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Chris Angiello, a veterinarian at Hudson Animal Hospital in New York City, to find out everything you need to know about xylitol and dogs.

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables, but it’s also used as a sugar substitute in prepared foods. It’s sweet like regular sugar but has about two-thirds the calories, which makes it a popular choice for low-calorie and low-sugar or sugar-free products for humans. It’s also lower on the glycemic index, which means it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in people as much as glucose, so it can be better for diabetics.

However, xylitol is highly toxic to dogs.

Many types of sugar-free products contain xylitol, and even some human medications and toiletries can have it as an ingredient. Some of these products can include:

  • Gum
  • Peanut butter
  • Candy
  • Pudding
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Baked goods
  • Chocolate
  • Ketchup
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Pancake syrup
  • Chewable vitamins
  • “Meltaway” medications
  • Liquid medications
  • Nasal sprays
  • Antacids
  • Cough drops
  • Protein powder and bars
  • Flavored water
  • Electrolyte mixes
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Facial care products
  • Shampoo
  • Essential oils
  • Hand creams

For an even more complete list of products that sometimes contain xylitol, you can check out this list.

Why is xylitol bad for dogs?

While xylitol can be found in lots of human foods, it’s highly toxic to dogs. This is because xylitol stimulates the release of insulin in dogs but not in people.

“The artificial sweeteners stimulate insulin release by the pancreas and can cause a dramatic drop in blood glucose, which can be life-threatening,” Dr. Angiello told The Dodo. “These sweeteners can also cause liver damage. The mechanism for this is not well understood.”

How much xylitol is toxic to dogs?

About 100 milligrams of xylitol per kilogram (or approximately 2 pounds) of body weight is toxic to dogs, Dr. Angiello said.

So, if your pup weighs 10 pounds, he would have to eat about 500 milligrams of xylitol to become sick. And since sugar-free gums contain about 180 milligrams of xylitol, eating just a few sticks can make your pup really ill.

Keep in mind that the amount of xylitol in different products can vary widely. For example, the amount of xylitol in sugarless gum can vary by brand and flavor. Some brands of gum contain small amounts of xylitol, so it could take a few pieces of gum to cause severe hypoglycemia. Other brands contain more xylitol, so it could take only a piece or two for your dog to get seriously sick.

Because different products and brands of products can contain varying amounts of xylitol, the best thing to do if your dog eats anything that includes it is contact your vet immediately.

Is birch sugar the same thing as xylitol?

Birch sugar is actually just another name for xylitol. Some products may use the name birch sugar, birch bark extract, birch sap or wood sugar in the ingredient list instead of xylitol.

This can be really dangerous for dog owners who don’t realize they’re the same thing. So if you have any products that contain those ingredients, keep them far away from your pup.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs

Symptoms of xylitol toxicity will probably show up about 30 to 60 minutes after eating it, Dr. Angiello said. You’ll likely see symptoms that are a result of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, which include:

  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums

In severe cases, ingesting too much xylitol can lead to liver failure. Symptoms of liver failure include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in poop
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Jaundice
  • Drooling
  • Lack of coordination
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures

Xylitol is extremely dangerous to your pup, and it’s a very common cause of poisoning in dogs — and can even be fatal. So if your dog manages to get ahold of some, you should contact your vet immediately.

What to do if your dog eats xylitol

Xylitol poisoning in dogs is an emergency — call your veterinarian ASAP if your dog eats something that contains xylitol. You can also call ASPCA Poison Control at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 to get more advice while you’re on the way to the vet.

“If you witness your dog eating gum [or other sugar-free products or products that might contain xylitol], you should try to assess as accurately as possible how much and exactly what product she ingested,” Dr. Angiello said. “You should then seek immediate veterinary attention.”

You should bring as much information with you to the vet as possible, like any wrappers, ingredient lists and an idea of the amount eaten. This will help your veterinarian to diagnose and treat your dog quickly, and the quicker they can treat her, the better the outcome for your pup.

“Your veterinarian may induce vomiting if ingestion was recent (within an hour or so) and if the patient is not already symptomatic,” Dr. Angiello said. “Hospitalization for 12 to 24 hours may be recommended to monitor blood glucose. If blood glucose is low, then intravenous (IV) supplementation will be given.”

Prevention of xylitol poisoning in dogs

The best way to prevent your dog from getting xylitol poisoning is to keep anything that could be dangerous for her to eat out of her reach — especially anything that’s sugar-free.

You can also get a pet-proof garbage can, so she can’t go dumpster diving and get into any products that have been thrown away.

The simplehuman pet-proof trash can received The Dodo’s Paw of Approval. You can get it from Amazon for $79.

Xylitol is super dangerous for dogs. So keep your dog far away from any products that are sugar-free or sugarless (and anything else that could potentially contain xylitol), and take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice any of the symptoms above or know she ate something toxic.

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