I learned something new last week at work that I would like to share.
We had a dog come in as a toxicity case. It had consumed xylitol.
Xylitol? I had never heard of it. Which is crazy because it was first identified in 1891 and has started to make an increasing appearance in food and oral care products since the 1970s. Apparently I just haven’t been paying that close attention to some of my sugar-free foods.
I did some quick research (thanks google!) and found out that I actually consume xylitol on a near daily basis. Xylitol is a very common sweetener used in chewing gum (and other sugar-free foods such as mints, chewable vitamins, oral-care products, and some baked goods).
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener often used instead of sugar because it has significantly less calories. It is a part of a group of sweeteners called “sugar alcohols” that also include things like sorbitol, mannitol, glycerol, etc.
Where is it found in our lives?
Xylitol is increasingly being found in sugar-free snacks and many dental products due to the discovery that xylitol provides some dental health benefits. Xylitol is in many sugar-free gums, including Orbit, Trident, Dentyne, and many “dental” gums. Xylitol is also available to buy in a granulated form for baking purposes.
What does it do to dogs?
Studies have shown that xylitol, while being safe and potentially has health benefits for humans, is toxic to dogs. It causes a release of insulin; the increase can lead to hypoglycemia (lowered blood sugar levels). Very high doses of xylitol intake can also potentially lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.
Why does it cause problems in dogs?
Xylitol is absorbed very quickly in dogs; their bodies are fooled into thinking a bunch of sugar just entered the body, so their body reacts by releasing insulin, which helps the body absorb sugar from the blood. As a result, the blood sugar goes way down—and fast. It is reported that blood sugars can plummet in only half an hour.
What should you do if you discover your dog ate some xylitol-containing food?
Take it to the vet right away! Don’t wait for symptoms. There might be time to induce vomiting and puke up the gum/food. If the problem is caught early, the dog can be monitored and treated until the problem is gone.
According to the ASPCA poison control website:
Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination. Signs can progress to recumbancy and seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.
How much is a toxic dose?
Research suggests that more than 0.1g/kg can lead to hypoglycemia and more than 0.5g/kg can be much worse and lead to liver failure.
That means, for example, that Leopold (who is 31 kg [69lbs]) would have to consume 3.1g of xylitol to be at risk of hypoglycemia, and would have to consume 15.5g of xylitol to be at risk for liver failure.
In terms of chewing gum (the most likely source in the average home), one source recommends that if your dog ate gum with xylitol listed as the first sugar alcohol ingredient, then base the dose on the total amount of sugar alcohols; this will result in an over-estimation (but better safe than sorry, right?)
If your dog ate gum with xylitol not listed as the first sugar alcohol ingredient, then assume 0.3g of xylitol per piece of gum. Also, I cup of powdered xylitol = about 190g.
I chew gum on a regular basis, so I'm glad I learned of this information. I plan on making sure to keep all gum and other xylitol-containing goods well away from my dogs.
Dunayer, Erik K. (December 2006). "New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs". Veterinary Medicine 101 (12): 791–797. Retrieved August 20, 2012.