There have been a number of media reports recently about xylitol and the risks it poses to dogs. Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is commonly used in the preparation of sugar-free products such as chewing gum, candy and Jell-O because it has fewer calories than sugar and reduces tooth decay. It is a great product for people who are watching what they eat but still enjoy a sweet treat… but not for their pets.
Xylitol is very toxic to dogs, but that hadn’t been such a problem until now - we don’t usually feed candy and gum to our pets. This ingredient is now being included in peanut butter and its toxicity to dogs is a huge problem. I’m one of many who use a dab of peanut butter to encourage my dogs to take their pills. If the brand I choose contains xylitol, I’m putting my much-loved pooches in grave danger.
Also known as birch sugar or additive E967, xylitol has two effects on dogs. The first is a rapid drop in blood glucose levels that results in weakness, tremors and possibly even seizures. These symptoms can start between thirty minutes and twelve hours after a pooch eats xylitol, depending on how fast it is absorbed into their body.
The second effect is damage to liver tissue and takes eight to twelve hours for early symptoms of lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea to appear. Some canines recover with supportive treatment but others develop internal bleeding and blood clotting problems, resulting in death.
As little as 100mg of xylitol per kilogram of body weight is enough to cause low blood glucose and associated symptoms. It takes five times that much to damage the liver. It is not always easy to do the math and work out how much xylitol your dog has eaten especially when many manufacturers don’t include this information on food labels. It is not clear how much xylitol is present in peanut butters or sugar-free gums; it can vary depending on gum flavor. To use one specific brand as an example, if one stick of sugar-free gum contains around 170mg of xylitol, it won’t take many sticks to affect a small dog. Just three sticks can make a pup or a Toy breed unwell. Vets recommend that if your dog eats any amount of a product containing this ingredient, you should err on the side of caution and take him to your vet for treatment. There is no specific test for xylitol toxicity and affected animals are given supportive treatment including sugar supplementation in cases of low blood glucose.As people become increasingly health conscious, more and more xylitol-containing products can be found on supermarket shelves. The Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA) logged over 1,700 calls relating to xylitol toxicity in 2007. Five years later that number had increased to over 3,000 calls; many of the calls related to dogs eating gum. Fortunately, dogs with low blood glucose and no evidence of injury to the liver tend to recover well if treated quickly. Those patients with liver damage may not be so fortunate. It is safest to keep all of your snacks and foods that contain xylitol well beyond your dog’s reach.
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