Although you consider your pet as a family member, you need to remember that they are another species. Dogs metabolize drugs and other substances differently than people, which makes some human food ingredients, including xylitol, unsafe for pets. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, a sweet but noncaloric substance frequently used to lower or eliminate sugar content in certain foods, such as sugar-free candy or chewing gum. 

Xylitol is helpful for people who want to reduce their sugar intake and improve their oral health, but a pup who ingests this substance can suffer potentially life-threatening consequences. Read our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team’s guide to learn about xylitol’s toxic effects, how to identify xylitol-containing products, and what to do if your pet ingests a xylitol-containing food.

What makes xylitol dangerous for dogs?

Xylitol tricks a dog’s body into believing they ingested real sugar, causing their pancreas to release large insulin quantities to mobilize that sugar and to help their body use it for energy. In the absence of real sugar, this insulin release causes blood glucose to drop rapidly, often to dangerously low levels. Severely low blood sugar (i.e., hypoglycemia) can cause vomiting, altered mental status, lethargy, and seizures. A relatively small quantity, as little as one piece of xylitol-containing gum, can cause a small dog to experience this reaction.

For unknown reasons, xylitol also frequently causes acute liver damage in our canine friends. This liver damage may be mild and treatable or could progress rapidly to liver failure and death, despite treatment. The dose required to cause liver damage is typically higher than a dose that causes hypoglycemia alone.

Identifying xylitol-containing products

One of xylitol’s most dangerous qualities is that manufacturers can easily conceal the ingredient in various food and nonfood items. Manufacturers commonly label items containing xylitol as sugar-free or diabetic-friendly, including chewing gum, candy, and mints. Carefully read packaging labels to check for xylitol, which may be listed as birch sugar or birch extract. To avoid inadvertently giving your pet xylitol, carefully examine these products’ labels:

  • Peanut butters, jams, and jellies
  • Oral care rinses and toothpastes
  • Liquid medication preparations
  • Dietary supplements
  • Cough syrups

What to do if your dog ingests xylitol

Xylitol may begin causing toxicity signs as soon as 20 minutes after ingestion, or your pet may exhibit signs as long as 12 hours after ingestion. Pets’ xylitol toxicity signs may include:

  • Weakness
  • Stumbling
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

If you know your pet has consumed xylitol, don’t wait for them to exhibit toxicity signs before seeking veterinary medical attention. Call our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team or head straight to your nearest veterinary emergency facility, so your pet can get immediate care. By calling the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline and telling them the details about what your pet ingested, the amount, and when, you help veterinary staff quickly determine the xylitol dose and potential effects, and provide your pet with effective treatment.

How veterinarians treat xylitol toxicity

When you bring in your pet, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team members will immediately check your furry pal’s blood glucose level and run a full blood panel to detect liver damage. An intravenous (IV) fluid drip containing dextrose, a sugar, will help counteract or prevent hypoglycemia. An affected pet typically stays on this IV while hospitalized for at least 12 to 24 hours. 

Liver protectant medications may reduce xylitol’s impact on liver function and help your dog recover quickly. Every 24 hours, our team will repeat your pet’s blood work for at least the first 72 hours after xylitol ingestion to monitor your furry pal’s liver function and address changes as needed. Your pet may require long-term treatment or specialist referral if liver damage persists. Although most pets recover completely from xylitol toxicity, severe liver failure is difficult to reverse, and some pets may pass away.

How to reduce your dog’s xylitol exposure 

Reducing xylitol exposure starts with xylitol awareness. Check food and oral care product labels in your home and ensure you keep anything containing xylitol out of your dog’s reach. A dog can easily steal chewing gum from a purse or backpack, so ask family members and guests to keep these items off the floor and out of your pet’s reach. Never give your pet a liquid medication intended for people without first consulting our veterinary team and checking the product’s label for ingredients, as these preparations often contain xylitol.

Most dogs treated promptly after xylitol ingestion recover completely, but failing to seek an affected dog’s immediate treatment can result in death from severe hypoglycemia or liver failure. Always err on the side of caution and contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team or call our after-hours line if you think your dog ingested an item that contains xylitol.