If you have a dog and subscribe to the importance of interactive toys for the mental stimulation of your four-legged family member(s) or have to hide medication in cheese or peanut butter the following information may be of interest to you. For a long time, it’s been pretty commonplace for peanut butter or cheese to use in interactive toys and treats. However, there’s an ingredient that has slowly become more and more common in the production of consumption products that is toxic to dogs. I’m talking about Xylitol. If your dog consumes enough of it; it can kill your dog D.E.D dead.
So, what is Xylitol? In laymen’s terms it’s a sweetener used as a substitute for sugar. Technically speaking, it’s sugar-alcohol found in various vegetation. It’s been around for decades but wasn’t widely used until recently.
Why has it gotten to be so popular? It’s about as sweet as table sugar but at only 2/3 the calories. Which means this sugar substitute is lower on the glycemic index. In other words, it’s better for your blood sugar. This makes it more appealing to diabetics and anyone else on a low carbohydrate diet. The most common products Xylitol is used is in gum, candies, medications, sports supplements, toothpaste and peanut butter.
Is Xylitol safe? Well, it is for human consumption, however, it is extremely toxic for dogs. Even in small amounts xylitol is capable of causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure and death in dogs.
But why is it toxic to dogs? I’m going to give you a little bit of biology here… The level of blood sugar is regulated by the release of insulin from the pancreas. When dogs ingest something containing xylitol it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream which causes the pancreas to release excessive amounts of insulin. The sudden release of insulin causes the blood sugar levels to plummet resulting in hypoglycemia. Untreated you can expect death to occur within sixty minutes of initial ingestion of the Xylitol if a lethal quantity has been ingested. This begs the question; how much will it take to kill my dog? Hypoglycemia will be induced by a dose as small as about 50mg per pound of the dog or for all of you metric types, 100mg per kg. It goes without saying that the more ingested the greater the risk of organ damage and death. The most specific I can get regarding lethal doses are: 225 mg/lb or 500 mg/kg body weight.
If my dog eats something with xylitol, what should I do? Your best bet is to contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card however. Unless directed to do so by poison control or a veterinarian, do not induce vomiting or give anything orally. If your dog is already hypoglycemic from xylitol ingestion, vomiting can make it worse.
What does xylitol poisoning look like? You have to be observant because the signs and symptoms come on very quickly, usually within about fifteen minutes of ingestion.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning develop rapidly, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption. Signs of hypoglycemia may include any or all of the following: Vomiting, Listlessness, Lack of coordination or difficulty walking or standing (kinda looks like alcohol inebriation), Lethargy, Tremors, and Coma. In acute cases, the dog may develop seizures or liver failure.
Is there an antidote for xylitol toxicity? No. There is no antidote for xylitol poisoning, although treatment with sugar supplementation, IV fluids, and liver protective drugs are beneficial.
If there is no antidote, how is xylitol poisoning treated? Fast and aggressive treatment by your veterinarian is essential to effectively reverse any toxic effects and prevent the development of severe problems. If your dog has just eaten xylitol but has not yet developed any clinical signs, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption, depending on what your dog's blood glucose level is. If clinical signs have developed, treatment will be based on the symptoms that are being shown. Since xylitol toxicity can cause both low blood glucose and low potassium levels, your veterinarian will perform blood work to determine whether these problems need to be treated. In all cases, your dog will require hospitalization for blood sugar monitoring, dextrose administration, intravenous fluids, liver protectants, and any other supportive care that may be needed. Blood work should be monitored frequently to make sure that blood sugar and liver function remain normal.
What is the prognosis for recovery from xylitol poisoning? The prognosis is good for dogs that are treated before clinical signs develop, or for dogs that develop uncomplicated hypoglycemia that is quickly reversed. If liver failure or a bleeding disorder develops, the prognosis is generally poor. If the dog lapses into a coma, the prognosis is very poor.
How can I prevent this problem? The short of the long is avoid giving your dog anything with xylitol in it’s ingredients. According the AMVA the leading cause of xylitol poisoning is sugar free gum. Remember that dogs perceive the world with their nose. If there is chewed gum on the ground in the path of your morning walk with Fido, don’t let your dog investigate it. If you’re using peanut butter or cheese to reward your dog or to load their toys check the labels to make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol. It’s that simple.
Jason Sigler is a dog training instructor and a PSA (Protection Sports Association) enthusiast. He's a certified Pet Tech Canine first Aid and CPR instructor as well as a certified Canine Training and Behavior Specialist.
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