Owner reveals heartache after pet eats artificial sweetener

There are many seemingly ‘innocent’ foodstuffs out there, e.g. grapes, raisins, chocolate, that are highly toxic and lethal to dogs. However there is a new emerging toxin in the UK which is very dangerous to our faithful companions, especially those with a sweet tooth.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in many products such as sugar-free chewing gum, nicotine gum, dental products and chewable vitamins and is being used more frequently as a sugar substitute in baking. 

For the health conscious, swapping sugar for xylitol is a sensible option but the opposite is true for our pets.

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Bronte was rushed to Vets Now Glasgow after she sneakily stole a 250g packet of granulated xylitol off the kitchen counter.  She managed to eat approximately half of the contents before her owner managed to prise it out of her mouth.  Within 15 minutes Bronte vomited, became weak and uncoordinated, and collapsed.  En route to the hospital, Bronte had 3 short seizures.  Thankfully, knowledge of the ingested toxin allowed the veterinary team to have all the necessary equipment and medications prepared in advance. 

In dogs, xylitol causes a massive release of the hormone insulin causing a dramatic drop in blood glucose levels.  Low blood glucose termed hypoglycaemia can cause neurological signs such as staggering, collapse, convulsions and coma, which if left untreated can be fatal.  Bronte immediately received glucose intravenously and responded quickly, initially wagging her tail and soon after she was able to rise and walk.  Once she was alert and responsive another drug was given to make her vomit in an attempt to eliminate as much of the toxin as possible.  She was placed on a drip with added glucose for 48hours and her glucose levels were monitored closely.

As well as hypoglycaemia, other life-threatening consequences of xylitol ingestion is liver failure and blood clotting disorders.  If a dog eats more than 0.5g of xylitol per kilogram, liver damage is a very real possibility.  Bronte managed to eat nearly 10 times this toxic dose.  Blood samples were taken to check Bronte’s liver enzymes and her ability to clot.  These normal results served as a baseline for subsequent blood tests allowing the veterinary team to track any changes.  Bronte was started on liver support medications immediately such as anti-oxidants and Vitamin E and a special liver care prescription diet.  Once recovered from the initial hypoglycaemic episode, Bronte did not appear to be ill, she was bright and happy and eating extremely well.   However, when her blood was resampled 48hrs later there was an increase in her liver enzymes indicating liver damage.  Thankfully Bronte’s latest blood tests have shown that there is an improvement in these levels and we are hopeful that Bronte will make a full recovery.

Bronte’s story has a happy ending but it could easily have been a very different scenario.  Other dogs have not been so lucky.   It cannot be emphasised enough how dangerous xylitol is and even a few pieces of gum or frosted cookies containing xylitol is enough to cause irreversible damage and the loss of a dear friend.

Bronte was treated initially by the Vets Now, Glasgow emergency team, before being referred to Yvonne McGrotty, Internal Medicine Specialist at Vets Now Referrals.