Have you heard of the alternative sweetener called xylitol? This sugar substitute, often recommended for diabetics and touted for its ability to reduce the process of tooth decay, has shown to be highly toxic to dogs, according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
Xylitol is used in many products such as chewing gum, mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, and oral care products. It is also often purchased in granulated form and used as a sweetener for cereals, beverages, and baked goods. Although discovered in the late 1800s by German chemist Emil Fisher, xylitol was not used for commercial purposes until the 1970s.
Xylitol has grown in popularity during the past several years, mostly because it is considered a good sugar substitute for those on a low-carbohydrate diet and those concerned with the glycemic index of foods. Xylitol is popular among diabetics because it does not cause large peaks of insulin production after ingestion. However, as the popularity and number of products containing xylitol has increased, so has the number of reported toxic exposures to dogs.
In 2003, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center reported three cases of xylitol poisoning. In 2005, 193 cases were reported. During just the first half of 2006, they received 114 reported cases of xylitol poisoning in dogs. Although it has always been known that xylitol causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in dogs, it has only been recently discovered to produce acute and possibly life-threatening liver disease. Humans and dogs do not metabolize substances in the same way and xylitol is no exception. Dogs seem to absorb almost 100% of xylitol while humans absorb only 50%. As a result only a small amount is needed to produce toxic effects.
After ingesting xylitol dogs can begin to vomit and may develop hypoglycemia within 30 to 60 minutes. Some dogs will develop liver failure within 12 to 24 hours after xylitol ingestion. One reported case involved a 3-year-old dog that ate five or six cookies containing the sweetener. It became ill 24 hours later and died the next day.
Pet owners who are watching their diets and using xylitol-sweetened products in their home need to be aware of its toxic effect on dogs. You need to ensure that your dogs do not get hold of any of these products. If your dog is prone to helping himself to muffins or sugarless gum left out on the counter, be sure to check the ingredients on the package as xylitol is being used more and more often on a commercial basis. Ever share your sports drink with your canine friend? Be certain you know what was used to sweeten that thirst quencher.
Xylitol’s effect on cats and ferrets is currently unknown. Other sugar sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose are generally regarded as safe for dogs.If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, don’t delay. Call your veterinarian immediately.