Sugar substitutes are being used more frequently due to health benefits, weight loss, diabetes management and tooth decay in humans. However, the most common sugar substitute, Xylitol, is highly toxic to dogs. Xylitol can be found in sugarless gum, tooth paste and some peanut butter brands. Toxicity can occur with as little as one piece of gum depending on the size of the dog.
Xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and/or hepatic necrosis (destruction of the liver tissues). Hypoglycemia is a result of the canine pancreas releasing 3-7 times the amount of insulin it would normally release for actual sugar. This happens because the pancreas is unable to recognize xylitol as an artificial sugar and releases more insulin to store “sugar”. Symptoms can develop within 30 minutes with vomiting and will progress over 12 hours. As the blood sugar begins to lower, dogs will be weak, disoriented, tremor and possibly seize. Hepatic necrosis occurs when a much larger dose of xylitol is ingested. Not all canines that experience hepatic necrosis will be hypoglycemic first. Signs of acute or complete liver failure can be fatal with internal bleeding and an inability clot blood. Some dogs may not show symptoms until after 12 hours since xylitol is absorbed slowly.
Xylitol ingestion requires immediate treatment. If seen within 30 minutes, vomiting can be induced. Bloodwork would be done initially to check glucose level (blood sugar) and liver enzymes. Dogs typically stay in the hospital on intravenous (IV) fluids with dextrose (sugar) supplementation for 24 hours. Ideally, liver enzymes and blood clotting should be monitored for two to three days following ingestion of xylitol.
It is important to have packaging of the product your pet consumed so that the amount of xylitol ingested can be estimated. If you are concerned that your dog ingested xylitol please contact us as well as ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.