Over the past few years there has been an increase in the use of sugar substitutes and sweetening agents. One of the most common is xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in some fruits and vegetables. While xylitol is safe for humans, it is extremely toxic for your pets.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a manufactured white powder that looks and tastes similar to sugar and has been approved for use in oral care products, pharmaceuticals, and as a food additive. Over recent years, the number and types of products that contain xylitol has greatly increased. Sugar-free gum, candies, mints, baked goods, vitamins, supplements, mouthwash, and toothpaste are common examples. You should avoid feeding your pets any home baking, especially if sweeteners have been used. Similarly, if you do use a sweetener, make sure it is stored safely. Any product that is advertised as sugar-free should be kept out of reach of your pet.
Side Effects of Xylitol Poisoning
In humans, cats, and dogs, blood sugar is controlled by insulin, a hormone released from the pancreas. If insulin is no longer produced, diabetes results. In humans, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin, but that’s not the case with cats or dogs, who absorb it very quickly.
After ingesting xylitol, animals quickly develop hypoglycemia – dangerously low blood sugar – and with less sugar in the bloodstream, your pet may faint or suffer from seizures, which can be fatal. Other signs of xylitol poisoning include collapse, difficulty walking, lethargy, vomiting, and weakness. Liver failure can also occur and, as a result, your pet may lapse into a coma. The severity of this often depends on the pet rather than the dose, so even a tiny amount of xylitol can cause serious health issues.
Treatment for Xylitol Poisoning
Fast and aggressive treatment by our veterinarians is essential to effectively reverse the toxic effects and prevent the development of severe problems. If you suspect your pet has just ingested xylitol but has not yet developed the clinical symptoms, we may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption, depending on the blood glucose level of your pet. If clinical symptoms have developed, treatment will be based on the signs that are being shown. Because xylitol can cause both low blood glucose and potassium levels, our veterinary team will need to perform a blood panel to determine what specifically needs to be treated. In all cases, your pet will need to be hospitalized for monitoring, IV fluid administration, and any other care that may be needed to ensure normal blood glucose and liver function.
If you suspect that your pet has eaten a xylitol-containing product, please contact the doctors and staff at Sierra Veterinary Hospital or a Pet Poison Helpline immediately.
The increased use of xylitol in everyday household products and foods has had a negative impact on the health of our pets. Keep any products containing the ingredient out of reach to avoid accidental ingestion. As with any poisoning, prompt decontamination and treatment are always warranted, as it is less dangerous to your dog and ultimately less costly. Rapid diagnosis and treatment by the doctors at Sierra Veterinary Hospital are imperative. If you have any questions about xylitol and its effect on your pets, please call our office.