The sweet treat or peanut butter-stuffed Kong you give your furry pal may be more hazardous than you think. Xylitol, a popular sugar substitute, is found in a wide array of products, and can be deadly to dogs. Before giving your pet a special treat, learn more about xylitol, products that contain the toxic substance, and its dangerous effects on dogs, as well as diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Question: Which pets does xylitol affect?

Answer: Ingested xylitol causes a unique reaction in dogs, who are the only domestic animal in which xylitol toxicity has been reported. No cases of cats suffering from xylitol ingestion have been reported. In people, xylitol in large amounts can have a mild laxative effect, but does not cause toxicity.

Q: Which products contain xylitol?

A: Xylitol is naturally found in berries, plums, corn, oats, mushrooms, lettuce, trees, and some other fruits. Most commonly, xylitol is used as a sugar-free sweetener in a variety of foods, as well as non-food items. Some of the most common products that contain xylitol include:

  • Sugar-free gum and candy
  • Breath mints
  • Baked goods
  • Peanut butter
  • Pudding
  • Cough syrup
  • Chewable or gummy vitamins
  • Supplements
  • Sunscreen
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste
  • Nasal sprays
  • Skin care products
  • Laxatives
  • Digestive aids
  • Allergy medications
  • Dry mouth lozenges

Any sugar-free food, plus a wide range of oral hygiene products and medications, can be hazardous to your dog, so carefully checking the ingredient list before feeding your pup a snack is essential. And, as with all other potentially toxic products, ensure foods and other items that contain xylitol are inaccessible to your pet.

Q: What are xylitol toxicity signs in dogs?

A: Xylitol toxicity in dogs can create one of two problems—severe hypoglycemia or liver failure. Their blood sugar can drop drastically in as little as 30 minutes after ingestion, or signs may take 12 to 18 hours to appear. Hypoglycemia signs include:

  • Weakness
  • Shivering or shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Inappetence
  • Ataxia or stumbling
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seizures
  • Coma

In some cases, dogs who ingest a large amount of xylitol will suffer liver injury. Signs of liver injury or failure can be slow to appear, and you may not notice an issue until 24 to 48 hours after ingestion. Liver failure signs include depression, jaundice, vomiting, and clotting problems.

Q: How is xylitol toxicity in dogs diagnosed?

A: If you notice your dog eating something they shouldn’t, like a pack of sugar-free gum, you can easily diagnose xylitol toxicity. However, that can be more challenging if your dog exhibits toxicity signs, but no product is in plain sight. Then, a diagnosis will be made based on your dog’s signs, their physical exam findings, and blood work results. Dogs with xylitol toxicity will generally display severely low blood glucose and low potassium levels, and possibly liver enzyme abnormalities. If you did not see actual xylitol ingestion, various diagnostic tests—mainly blood work—will be performed, to rule out other potential hypoglycemia and liver damage causes.

Q: How is xylitol toxicity in dogs treated?

A: A good prognosis is best achieved through immediate treatment after your dog eats a xylitol-containing product. Treatment can include intravenous fluids, dextrose administration, liver protectant medications, and regular blood glucose and liver function monitoring. In general, hypoglycemia will resolve in 24 hours, but mild liver damage can take several days. More serious liver damage may be irreversible, despite aggressive treatment.

Q: How can xylitol toxicity in dogs be prevented?

A: Ensure you store any household products that contain xylitol, such as hair products or over-the-counter medications, safely out of your pet’s reach. Always check the ingredient list of any food items, such as peanut butter, that you share with your dog, to ensure xylitol is not an ingredient. Lastly, brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste made specifically for pets, because many toothpastes for humans contain xylitol or fluoride.

Xylitol toxicity in dogs can be life-threatening, so do not hesitate to seek veterinary treatment if your dog ingests a xylitol-containing product. Contact our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team immediately for help.