Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in many products, including sugar-free gum and mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, oral-care products, some peanut butter and various baked goods. It can also be bought in a granulated form for baking and as a sweetener for cereals and beverages. Interestingly, it’s also found naturally in berries, plums, oats and mushrooms.
Posted: 15 December 2018
While xylitol is considered safe in people, dogs can develop serious, life-threatening problems. Its ability to cause hypoglycemia in dogs has been known since the 1980’s, but we now know it can cause other problems such as liver failure and coagulopathy.
The dose of xylitol that can cause a problem in dogs has been reported as low as 100mg of xylitol per kg bodyweight. It’s important to note that the higher the dose, the more the risk of liver failure.
A very common source of xylitol poisoning comes from sugar-free gum. Some brands of gum contain fairly small amounts of xylitol, whilst others can result in severe hypoglycemia or liver failure with just a few pieces being eaten. How many of us keep packets of chewing gum lying around the car or in the house, waiting to be chewed and swallowed by our inquisitive canine friends?
As a sweetener, Xylitol is generally safe in most species, but it's definitely not safe in dogs. We therefore all have a responsibility to let our doggy clients know of the risks.
The signs can develop rapidly and are often dramatic.
Try to work out the amount of xylitol that has been eaten. Some food products will tell you on the packaging, but sadly many don’t give you enough information. For example, in some chewing gums there is as much as 1g of xylitol per piece of chewing gum, so just 1 or 2 pieces of gum can be enough to cause hypoglycaemia in a 10kg dog. As a guide;
If you think one of your patients may have eaten xylitol, you could recommend;
Cases of uncomplicated hypoglycemia usually have a good prognosis, especially if they receive prompt treatment and support. Cases with mild elevated liver enzyme usually resolve within a few days. Those animals with severely elevation liver enzymes, hyperbilirubinaemia and coagulopathy have a much more guarded prognosis. Any dog that has gone on to develop hyperphosphataemia will carry a poorer outlook.
The good news is that other sweeteners, such as sorbitol and mannitol, have little to no effect on blood glucose concentrations or insulin secretion in dogs. Saccharin, aspartame and sucralose are generally regarded as safe in dogs. You may at most notice some diarrhoea from over-ingestion.