Why Xylitol is Deadly for Dogs + Emergency Contacts
Think you’ve got the goods on the healthiest snacks in town? Don’t mind sharing a bite with your furry friend now and then? What if I told you that the very same health food store you visit could be harbouring shelves and shelves of snacks that could kill your dog!?
Yep, kill. Lethal. Dead.
In my career as a human naturopath I have had many in depth discussions about diet, health and sugar consumption. Reducing or eliminating the vast majority of added and processed sugars from the diet can literally make a world of difference to someone’s life and health, and is something that I highly recommend. But it comes with a pet owners caveat…..
You simply MUST read the ingredients panel. Many foods and food products, in an effort to appear healthier, better, more appealing, or to meet the demands of the market, are now reducing or eliminating added sugars in their products (YAY), or using substitutes that provide the ‘sweetness’ without the blood sugar spikes. One of these popular sweeteners is Xylitol.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in some fruits and vegetables as well as many plant materials such as wood pulp, sugar cane pulp, some seed hulls and corn cobs. The most common source for the white crystalline substance found in health food stores is generally birch or corn.
From a human perspective xylitol is a great alternative to sugar, it is about as sweet as sugar, has fewer calories (about 40% less), can be used 1:1 for sugar in recipes such as baking (making it super easy to use), it is low GI (rated at 7/100 - compared to sugar at 60-70/100) and it does not cause a rise in insulin levels which is fantastic news for diabetics and those wanting to get on top of fluctuating blood sugar levels. It also has some pretty great dental benefits, helping to prevent decay and reduce plaque build up, which is why it is increasingly found in gums, mints, toothpastes, mouthwashes, candies, chewable vitamins and the like. It is also commonly found in ‘healthy’ snacks, baked goods, sugar-free and low-sugar products, diabetic-friendly food ranges, and even some medications.
Whilst generally well tolerated some people do experience side-effects when using xylitol such as gas, bloating, wind, or diarrhoea, so it is advised to start slowly with low doses a give the body time to adjust. Xylitol is not recommended for people with an intolerance to FODMAPs.
When it comes to our beloved furry friends however it is a VERY different story.
There are 2 MAJOR health issues associated with xylitol ingestion in dogs;
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
Acute hepatic necrosis (liver failure)
We mentioned that one of the benefits for humans was bypassing insulin release from the pancreas, however when non-primates consume xylitol (such as dogs) their bodies confuse it with sugar and it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream resulting in a potent release of insulin, this causes blood sugar levels to plummet (hypoglycaemia) in as little as 10-15 minutes and can itself be life-threatening.
Only 100mg/kg (0.1g/kg) is considered a toxic dose and results in sudden and profound health issues, and whilst this sounds like a lot products containing xylitol can vary in concentration considerably (from 2mg per piece of gum to up to 1g per piece of gum). For some animals this means ONE piece of xylitol sweetened gum is enough to be fatal!
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include:
Weakness or lethargy
Lack of coordination
Difficulty walking or standing
Trembling or tremors
Racing heart rate
So what do you do if you suspect that your pet has ingested xylitol?
Take them immediately to the vet. The faster they are treated, the better the prognosis.
Your vet will check blood sugar levels and may induce vomiting to clear any unabsorbed xylitol from the body. Dogs will then generally require hospitalisation and monitoring of blood sugar levels & potassium levels (xylitol drops both), and treatment with dextrose, IV fluids, liver protectants and any other supportive care deemed necessary. Careful monitoring of blood work (liver enzymes, electrolytes and blood sugar levels) is imperative to ensuring a proper recovery and often requires at least a 2-3 day stay at the vet or hospital.
Depending on your vets prognosis your dog may be required to take liver protectants for a period of several weeks after this to ensure no long term damage occurs.
If the liver is affected the condition is far more serious and will require specialist life-saving treatment.
If you have products containing xylitol in the house please keep them out of reach of pets. If you have small children that routinely share their food and snacks (willingly or otherwise) with your pets please read the label and make sure that they do not contain any xylitol. Do not use human toothpaste on dogs, do not leave snacks in reach of pets, put your discarded chewing gum in a bin, not on the ground, grass, or under a table (perfect nose height), and PLEASE make sure that anyone visiting your home for celebrations, parties, BBQs and the like are also aware that xylitol containing foods must never be given to or shared with your dogs.
If you are still not sure what to do, or suspect that maybe your dog has ingested something containing xylitol here is a list of 24hour emergency veterinary contact numbers within Australia that can offer support, information and advice:
3359 5333 Pet Emergency Brisbane
1300 232 838 Animal Emergency Centre (Woolloongabba and Gold Coast)
4032 9999 Cairns Vet After Hours
3423 1888 Animal Emergency Service Brisbane (Underwood)
3715 9999 Animal Emergency Service Brisbane (Jindalee)
5559 2221 Animal Emergency Service Gold Coast
5559 1599 Animal Emergency Service Gold Coast (Carrara)
5445 1333 Animal Emergency Service Sunshine Coast (Tanawa)
9531 3437 Sydney University After-Hours Veterinary Hospital
9436 1213 North Shore Veterinary Emergency Centre
9758 8666 Homebush Animal Referral Hospital
4957 7106 Newcastle Animal Referral and Emergency Centre
4323 3886 Animal Emergency Centre Central Coast
6280 6344 Animal Emergency Centre Canberra
1300 148 990 Southern Animal Referral Centre - South Melbourne
1300 232 838 Animal Emergency Centre - Mount Waverley, Hallam and Frankston
1300 302 912 After Hours Veterinary Emergency Centre, Hobart
0409 331 682 Darwin Emergency Vet Hotline
1300 232 838 Animal Emergency Centre Adelaide
1300 040 400 Perth Vet Emergency
9412 5700 Western Australian Veterinary Emergency and Specialty
1300 652 494 Murdoch Pet Emergency Centre