How do you know if your dog has xylitol poisoning? Tips and Tricks

Why is xylitol toxic to dogs?

In both humans and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. Xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas in humans. However, when dogs eat xylitol, the xylitol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This rapid release of insulin causes a profound drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an effect that can occur as quickly as 10-60 minutes after ingestion. If untreated, hypoglycemia can be life-threatening. The process by which xylitol can cause liver failure in dogs is poorly understood.

Why is xylitol increasing in popularity and use?

Xylitol has the same sweetness as sucrose but contains only about two-thirds the calories. As a sugar substitute, it is lower on the glycemic index, a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood sugar levels, compared to glucose. Being lower on the glycemic index makes xylitol useful for diabetics or people on low carbohydrate diets.

With respect to oral health, research has shown that xylitol helps reduce the formation of plaque, inhibits dental cavities, and stimulates the production of saliva.

Xylitol is safe for use in people, although like most sugar alcohols, it may have a mild laxative effect when eaten in large amounts or when first introduced to a diet. This occurs because xylitol can pull water into the intestines, or it can be fermented by bacteria present in the intestines.

Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure, or even death in dogs.

Xylitol and chocolate — a toxic combination

Our emergency vets in Milton Keynes recently treated a two-year-old Labrador who had eaten a “dairy free” chocolate advent calendar. The owners sensibly brought the box that had contained the treats to the clinic.

To our vets astonishment, the list of ingredients revealed that 20% of the chocolate was made of up xylitol. Thankfully, the dog responded well to treatment and survived the ordeal but her case highlights how xylitol may be present in all manner of foods. Our advice is to keep any sweet treats well out of reach of your dog.

Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs (7 symptoms And The Emergency Remedy)

You are taking your new puppy to visit your friend, and realize that you have forgotten to bring their “puppy peanut butter” to stuff their Kong. However, you figure your friend’s peanut butter will do in a pinch, and ask for a dollop. As you scoop out a spoonful, your friend starts telling you about how her keto diet has been going so well since she switched to sugar-free products. A warning bell goes off in your head, and you glance at the peanut butter label, quickly spotting the sugar-free indicator. You check the ingredients list, and search for xylitol, a common sugar substitute. When you see the ingredient listed, you scoop out the peanut butter and thoroughly wash your puppy’s Kong. You explain to your friend that xylitol is an excellent sugar substitute for humans, but can be deadly to dogs.

Unfortunately, such scenarios are common, and not all end without disaster. In fact, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) fielded phone calls from worried pet owners about 320,350 items their pets were exposed to in 2021. As a food item, xylitol ranked number three on the list of most common pet toxins, and every dog owner needs to know about the substance. Our Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center team wants to share important information about xylitol toxicity with you, so you can best protect your pet from poisoning.