Xylitol Intoxication in Dogs

Sugar has essentially become taboo in many kitchens around the world. This altered culinary mindset has resulted in the incorporation of different non-sugar sweeteners in various recipes. These non-sugar alternatives often contain fewer calories and/or are lower on the glycemic index than pure cane sugar. One of these non-sugar sweeteners, xylitol, has become quite popular because it is relatively inexpensive. What most pet parents don’t know is xylitol is also extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol can be deadly!

Thomas Magnific, RPh, FACA Veterinary Compounding Specialist

Thomas Magnific, RPh, FACA
Veterinary Compounding Specialist

Xylitol – What is it?

Xylitol is found naturally in many items in nature, including corn fiber, oats, and certain trees. It is a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in recipes and various products.  Consumption by humans is safe, but unfortunately this sugar substitute is quite toxic to dogs. To date, there are no known documented reports of intoxication in cats.

Common products that often contain this non-sugar sweetener include:

  • Sugarless gums
  • Chewable vitamins
  • Breath mints
  • Cough syrup
  • Some peanut butters
  • Some prescription medication often used in dogs

What does an intoxicated dog look like?

Following oral ingestion, the first clinical sign manifested by dogs is typically vomiting. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) often develops within 30 minutes. Scarily, intoxicated pets often deteriorate rapidly, developing lethargy, unsteadiness, seizures, and collapse within 1-2 hours. 

Why is it toxic?

Xylitol is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract of dogs. This is in contrast to the relatively slow absorption documented other species, including humans. Upon absorption, the pancreas secretes insulin, the hormone that counters a rise in blood sugar. For dogs, it appears the amount of insulin released is too much. Thus, dogs frequently develop severe hypoglycemia.

How is intoxication treated?

There is currently no known antidote for xylitol intoxication. Intravenous infusion of dextrose (injectable sugar solution) is warranted for those with documented hypoglycemia. Dogs should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible after ingestion. Whenever possible, pet parents should bring the original packaging of the xylitol-containing product ingested by their fur baby to the hospital.

The take-away message about xylitol intoxication in dogs…

Non-sugar sweeteners are gaining popularity as society continues to shun sugar. One of these, xylitol, is exceedingly toxic to dogs. Intoxicated dogs often develop severely low blood sugar levels that if untreated could possibly lead to collapse.  Pet parents need to make sure that if their fursons do partake of any human food, especially peanut butter, that they read the labels thoroughly to assure that xylitol is not one of the ingredients.  Prescription medications, especially liquids prescribed by the veterinarian and filled at the local pharmacy should also be screened for xylitol, as many of these commercially prepared medications contain this sweetener.  Be sure to ask the pharmacist to check the full description of the medication to assure no xylitol is present.  A little bit of time invested in checking labels and conversation with the veterinarian and pharmacist can assure safety for our furry friends.

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