Xylitol: What Is It, and How Can It Harm My Pet?

|| January 11, 2017

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that’s 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. Thus, these pets need to be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately.

Where can you find xylitol?

As veterinarians, we used to see it commonly in certain chewing gums, 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 human medicine. Thus, it’s very important to check labels prior to giving your pets any medications or foods, or if they eat something they shouldn’t.Dog_sniffing_plate.jpg

How do we treat it? 

If you know that 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 blood glucose. Blood glucose levels are typically checked every one to two hours for the first 8-12 hours. Dextrose supplementation may be provided to prevent hyperglycemia and help protect the liver. Other liver protectants are typically started as well, and 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 the next time you bring a new product into your home. It may be decreasing your sugar intake but could be extremely harmful to your pet.

Kerri Wiedmeyer, DVM, for ExpertVet.com

WVRC - ER Veterinarian