What you need to know about xylitol


Brush up on your knowledge of this human treat that's a danger to pets.

In the Seattle Times, Dana Brooks, DVM, an internist at Seattle Veterinary Specialists in Kirkland, Wash., offers up some useful information about the dangers of xylitol for pets. Often used as an artificial sweetener in foods, including sugar-free gum, sugar-free mints, chewable vitamins, tooth paste, and oral-care products, Xylitol is also available in a granulated form at your local grocery store for baking and beverage sweeteners.

Here's some more information from Dr. Books to help keep you up-to-date on the dangers of xylitol.

Why is xylitol so dangerous for dogs and cats?

Xylitol is safe for people, but because of different metabolisms, it can be fatal for dogs and cats. A simple piece of cookie could kill an animal if the danger is unknown and not addressed immediately. Hypoglycemia may compound into liver toxicity, liver damage, and ultimately liver failure. Sugar-free chewing gum is the most common cause of dogs that present to the emergency room. However, the recent introduction of xylitol as a substitute for sugar in grocery stores has increased the potential for toxicity.

What are the signs a dog might have eaten xylitol?

Immediately after ingestion, vomiting may occur. Hypoglycemia develops within 30 to 60 minutes, resulting in lethargy and weakness. These signs may quickly develop into ataxia, collapse, and seizures. Prolonged blood clotting times as well as skin and intestinal hemorrhaging are clinical signs that may develop within hours and warrant a very poor prognosis.

What is the treatment and prognosis?

A veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Inducing vomiting removes the xylitol and is imperative, but close monitoring of blood sugar levels and intravenous infusions of glucose may also be needed depending on the amount ingested and how quickly the problem was recognized. The prognosis for dogs with hypoglycemia is good with immediate and proper treatment, while the prognosis for dogs that have developed liver toxicity is poor. Large ingestions of xylitol (a relatively small amount of the product) that are not caught immediately can result in fulminant liver failure and death despite aggressive supportive care. This can occur in less than 36 hours in dogs that are otherwise young and healthy.

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