Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. It used to be found only in sugar-free chewing gum and sugarless candy. In recent years, it has become a popular substitute in many human products, including chewable vitamins, Jell-O sugar-free pudding snacks, nasal sprays (Xclear,Xylseptic), powdered energy drink mixes, and some all natural peanut butter brands. It can even be found in human dental products. Xylitol does not cause any problems for humans. So far, no cats, only cases involving dogs have been reported to the ASPCA Poison Control.
Dogs may develop profound low blood sugar within 1 hour after eating Xylitol containing sugarless gum. Some dogs that eat a large amount of Xylitol will develop liver damage, even liver failure within a few days. Clinical signs in dogs include incoordination, diarrhea, cramping, low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure and death.
The product’s ingredients list may NOT actually list Xylitol. Be suspicious if the label states: sugar-free, natural sweetener, or contains sugar alcohol. Another problem is that chewing gum will vary in amount of Xylitol per brand, even between flavors within same brand. We know that 0.1gm/kg of weight will cause low blood sugar, and 0.5 gm/kg will usually cause liver damage.
This is equal to one stick of gum causing hypoglycemia in a 10 pound dog. If the same 10 pound dog ate an entire unopened pack of gum, then liver damage will occur. Most major companies now list the Xylitol concentration for their gum on their website. However, sometimes you have to call the company to get this important information. Unfortunately, the manufacturers consider it proprietary knowledge. The amount of Xylitol is generally NOT listed on the gum package.
If you suspect that your dog has eaten gum, call your veterinary clinic or Emergency clinic immediately. The dog needs immediate veterinary care, and the gum package also needs to be brought into the clinic. Even hours after eating the gum, the dog’s stomach can still absorb Xylitol and therefore still be causing hypoglycemia.
The key points to remember are that dogs may seizure within 1 to 3 hours
of eating Xylitol containing gum, candy or other products due to profoundly low blood sugar. Secondly, the dogs body weight and the amount of Xylitol consumed is very important. One piece of gum is less dangerous than eating an entire pack, but the amount of Xylitol present will depend on the brand of gum. Lastly, higher levels of Xylitol will be more likely to cause toxic changes to the liver, even liver failure.
So, keep chewing gum out of reach of your dog! They can and will find it in your purses, backpacks, or sitting on kitchen counters and desk. However, if you come home to a chewed up package of gum, take your dog to thes veterinary hospital for immediate care to prevent Xylitol toxicity!
- Brutleg A: There’s Xylitol in that too? Veterinary Medicine, April 2014 Vol 109(4)
- Holowaychuk MK: Top 5 Ingestions that Require Induction of Emesis Clinician’s Brief, October 2015 pp 20-22.
- Brooks WC: Xylitol Poisoning VIN The Pet Health Library