Xylitol: A Toxin that Could Be Lurking in Your Purse or Pantry
Xylitol is a sugar substitute, harmless to humans, that is being used in a rapidly increasing number of “sugar-free” gums, candies, vitamins, baking products, and now even some PEANUT BUTTERS. While it’s very safe for people, and can help us cut calories, it can be a deadly toxin to our dogs. The biggest danger lies in the fact that it’s found in things that the average person would never even consider being toxic. Nobody would knowingly give their dog rat poison, but who would think twice about sharing a spoonful of peanut butter or Jello pudding with their dog?
Xylitol is a sweet-tasting sugar alcohol derived from plants. Since it is naturally-occurring, it’s favored as a sugar substitute in products labelled “natural”, “organic”, or advertised as containing “no artificial ingredients”.
In humans, xylitol is completely harmless, but in a dog ingesting xylitol, two types of toxicity can occur, depending on the amount ingested. The first thing that can happen is life-threating hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). A dog in this stage can show vomiting, lethargy, weakness, incoordination (i.e. staggering as if they were drunk), seizures, or collapse. The second issue that xylitol can cause is liver failure, which may not show up until 3-5 days after ingestion. Xylitol poisoning is treatable if the ingestion is recognized as an emergency and the dog is brought in for treatment promptly.
Products that contain xylitol include:
Sugarless gum and mints, including Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breakers
Nicorette smoking-cessation gum
Some sugar substitutes sold for baking, such as Ideal and Xylosweet, and homemade baked goods made using these.
Some chewable vitamins, including Flintstones
Sugar-free Jello Pudding
Some toothpastes and mouthwashes, including Tom’s of Maine
A number of sugar free foods marketed for diabetics.
Human medications, including Children’s Allegra liquid, Beano, Zegrid (omeprazole) liquid, and Mobic (meloxicam) liquid.
And the most recent addition:Peanut Butters: 3 relatively new brands aimed at the health food market: Nuts N’ More, Nutty By Nature, and P28 Peanut Spread.
I found it disturbing when I recently learned of its use in peanut butters, since I often recommended a bit of peanut butter to owners for the purpose of hiding pills that they need to give to their dog.
By far the most common source of the xylitol poisonings that I’ve personally treated have been the sugarless gums, which dogs frequently help themselves to, out of owners purses, off tables, and out of the cup holder areas of owner’s cars.
I fear that xylitol toxicity will be occurring more frequently in the future as xylitol’s use expands to more and more products, so please spread the word to all your dog-owning friends, and if you have any of these products in your house, make sure they are stowed away safely out of reach!
Finally, xylitol is known to be toxic to ferrets as well as dogs. Xylitol’s effects on cats are not known at this time.