Xylitol Poisoning

Sugar Substitute Is Toxic To Pets

Xylitol gum

Xylitol is a sugar substitute commonly used in toothpastes, mouthwash, sugarless gum, certain cough medicines, children's chewable multi-vitamins and a variety of nut butters (such as peanut butter, sunflower butter; check the brand ingredients before feeding to pets). It also used in many baked goods and candies. This product is recommended for diabetics and those following a low-carbohydrate diet. However, xylitol is extremely dangerous to your dog.

How Xylitol Can Harm Your Dog

The effects of xylitol on your dog are immediate and can be very severe. Signs of toxicity can be seen in as few as 30 minutes, says the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Ingestion of any small amounts of the product will cause the rapid release of insulin in dogs and result in hypoglycemia, warns Dr. David W. Reinhard, a consulting veterinarian for Nationwide pet insurance. Hypoglycemia results in vomiting, weakness, and sometimes seizures. In some cases, xylitol poisoning can result in liver failure, Reinhard adds. As little as two or three sticks of xylitol gum could be toxic to a 20-pound dog.

Below are some of the symptoms associated with xylitol poisoning:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness 
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements) 
  • Depression 
  • Decreased potassium 
  • Seizures 
  • Coma

How Common is Xylitol Poisoning?

Trident gum with xylitol sweetener

The number of cases animal poison control centers handle has substantially increased. In 2014, the Pet Poison Helpline had 2,700 cases involving xylitol or products in which xylitol was suspected. According to the PPH, 99% of those cases involved dogs; 43% of those cases were referred to veterinarians for emergency care.

The rise is likely linked to the increase of xylitol in human foods, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The recent introduction of xylitol as an ingredient in some peanut butter brands, including Nuts ‘n More, Krush Nutrition, and P-28 Foods, can lead pet owners to unwittingly poison their dogs if they are baking homemade treats with these particular brands. It's important to read the ingredients prior to buying at the store. If you see "naturally sweetened" or "natural sweetener" promoted on the product, check the ingredients for "xylitol" or its chemical classification, "sugar alcohol."

Products with Xylitol

The Pet Poison Helpline has been working to identify products with xylitol as an ingredient. According to Ahna Brutlag, assistant director of veterinary services, these are some products to keep out of reach of pets:

  • Rx suspensions/melts (i.e. Neurontin®, Abilify®, Allegra®, Mobic®, RioMet®, clonazepam, Emtrivia®)
  • OTC liquid medications
  • OTC digestive aids (Beano®, antacids)
  • Dental/oral care products
  • Nasal sprays
  • Nicotine gum
  • Chewable dietary supplements
  • Stool softeners
  • Barium liquid and pudding
  • Ice cream
  • Jell-O® sugar free pudding
  • Energy drinks
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters

What to Do If Your Pet Ingests Xylitol

Pet Poison Helpline

If you suspect your dog has ingested a product that might contain xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately. If your vet is not available, seek help from the the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. The hotline's service is available 24 hours a day, every day.*

Prevent Xylitol Poisoning

Always remember that our food is not meant for our pets. If you don’t know the ingredients of a specific food, don’t feed it to your pet. If you are often purchase gum and food labeled “sugar free,” be sure not to leave it out where your pet can access it. Following common sense safety with your food items could save you pet — and you — much suffering.

Ready for Anything

Did you know that you can get comprehensive health insurance coverage for your pet that will reimburse eligible expenses for these conditions? Plus, when you enroll two or more pets, you get an additional discount on your pets' policies. Want to learn more? Click here.

If you liked this story, read about toxic meds and toxic foods that can seriously harm your pets.

*A fee is billed by Pet Poison Helpline. PPH is not affiliated with Nationwide pet insurance.