The Dangers of Xylitol

Xylitol:  OK for You, Lethal for Pets

Next to add to the list of poisonous substances to protect your pets from is xylitol.  Xylitol is one of a number of natural new sweeteners that fall into the class of sugar-alcohols.  These sweeteners are increasingly popular and widespread because they taste like sugar but contain far fewer calories.  Almost any product can contain xylitol:  brownies, gum, toothpaste, ice cream, soft drinks, and so on.  Xylitol can even be purchased in bulk for home made recipies.

If your dogs are like mine, be extra careful!  They can sniff out and find food almost anywhere.  Garbage bags waiting to be put in the trash can, cookies too close to the edge of the counter, picnic table laid out for guests, sack lunch on the front seat of the car—all of these are fair targets.

Dogs are sensitive to xylitol because they metabolize it differently than humans do.  The first symptoms are associated with a plummeting glucose level (like an overdose of insulin):  weakness, collapse, impaired mentation, siezures within a few minutes of consumption.  After 12-24 hours the liver begins to fail, which is followed by death.  3 pieces of gum is enough to kill a 20 pound dog.

Time is of the essence to prevent a fatal outcome.  If it has been less than 30 minutes since ingestion, inducing vomiting is probably needed.  There are exceptions so be sure to check with your veterinarian first.  Next, get to your veterinarian immediately.  Blood tests, IV fluids with glucose and other measures are essential to successful treatment.  The sooner treatment is started the better the outcome is for the pet.  Rescue becomes much more difficult after 12-24 hours.

Cats seem to be resistant to this problem, but rabbits, ferrets, and other small rodents are not.

Again, I want to remind owners of the importance of having an established relationship with a veterinarian before you have an emergency.  Likewise, being able to provide the financial resources for treatment is essential—pet insurance, a credit card, or some savings set aside for emergencies will ensure that you pet gets timely and appropriate treatment.

If you do not already know, here is a list of some other common poisons:  grapes and raisins; people prescriptions; ibuprofen, Tylenol, naproxen; rat and snail bait;  Marijuana (in brownies especially); coins; alcohol;  oleander, yew, azalea, and sago palm;  and antifreeze.


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