Xylitol: What is it and how can it harm my pet?

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is making its way into many products. This sweet substitute has little effect on humans but is extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol stimulates insulin secretion, which causes severe hypoglycemia and low potassium in dogs. It can also cause liver destruction. Xylitol is rapidly absorbed once ingested and hypoglycemia can cause severe weakness and seizures and thus these pets need to be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately.

Where?

As veterinarians we used to see it commonly in certain chewing gum but now xylitol can be found in many more products such as certain peanut butters, syrups and jams, bars or baked goods, dental products and some humane medicines, etc.  Thus, It is very important to check labels prior to giving your pets any medications or foods or if they eat something they should not eat.

How do we treat it?

If you know your pet ingested Xylitol you should take him/her to a veterinarian immediately.  Xylitol is rapidly absorbed once ingested but inducing vomiting can be performed if you get your pet to the vet shortly after ingestion.  Initial blood work should be performed to check liver values, electrolytes and a blood glucose.  Blood glucose levels are typically checked every 1-2 hours for the first 8-12 hours and dextrose supplementation provided to prevent hyperglycemia.  Dextrose will also help protect the liver and other liver protectants are typically started as well.  Liver values will need to be monitored every 24 hours for three days.

Most pets have a good prognosis if only hypoglycemia develops; however, if liver failure develops the prognosis is guarded.

So keep this in mind next time you bring something into your home. It may be decreasing your sugar intake but harmful to your pet.

Kerri Wiedmeyer, DVM

WVRC ER Veterinarian