Assistance dog Ginny suffered severe poisoning due to toxic chemicals found in artificial sweeteners

A Labrador puppy’s sweet tooth almost proved deadly after she raided the family shopping and ate a toxic amount of xylitol.

Five-month-old Ginny – an assistance dog – swallowed a near-fatal level of the artificial sweetener, which is often used in chewing gum and baking products, causing her to be violently sick, collapse and seizure.

Ginny’s symptoms were so severe her distraught owners, Rachael Hymas and husband Pierre, of Harpenden, Herts, feared for her life.

“I saw that Ginny had been sick, but wasn’t too worried at first. Then she was sick again and not looking good. I then realised something was very wrong,” Rachael explained.

“I went to the lounge and saw the bag of xylitol on the floor. I knew it was toxic for dogs so I phoned our local vet straight away. But it was a Friday evening, and it had just closed.

“We decided to take Ginny to Vets Now, which is a 20-minute drive away, but while we were on the phone she collapsed.”

Image of dog poisoned by xylitol for Vets Now
Beautiful Ginny is now back on her feet

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As she was so weak, Pierre carried Ginny to their car before rushing to the pet emergency clinic.

“As we were driving there Ginny had another fit which was really violent, and we thought we’d lost her,” Rachael added.

By the time they arrived at Vets Now at 9.30pm, staff were already briefed and on-hand to try to save Ginny’s life. Tearful Rachael was relieved to be told the puppy was still breathing.

Ginny was placed on a drip and given glucose, and over the course of the night, she slowly began to regain consciousness. By 10 pm she was sitting up, and by 11 pm she was able to walk a little.

Astonishingly, she was well enough to go home the following afternoon.

“The vets said it’s because she’s so young that Ginny bounced back so well,” Rachael said.

Since then Ginny has made a full recovery – despite initial warnings her ordeal might cause brain damage or even organ failure – meaning Rachael can look back on the traumatic ordeal with relief.

The episode was made all the more upsetting for Rachael and Pierre as Ginny isn’t just a well-loved family pet – she’s also an assistance dog for their son, Luc, who has some special needs.

While originally trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind, she was withdrawn from their scheme because she wasn’t being assertive enough.

She was then passed to Dogs for Good, a charity which trains dogs to help adults and children lead more independent lives, at home and in the community.

“Dogs for Good brought us together with Ginny, who helps my son, Luc. Ginny gives him more confidence to go out,” said Rachael.

Due to the incident, Luc now keeps a watchful eye over Ginny, ensuring that her sweet tooth is kept firmly in check.

“He’s like the dog police, watching over her all the time and telling Ginny off if she even sniffs at anything she shouldn’t.”

Image of labrador poisoned by xylitol with children for Vets Now article
Ginny out for a walk with his friends

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Emergency vet Alex Tischer was part of the Vets Now team who treated Ginny.

She said her turnaround in fortunes – from being carried into the clinic unconscious to leaving the next day full of beans – was remarkable.

“Ginny’s owners were rightly worried about her chances, as xylitol is very toxic to dogs,” Alex said. “Dogs absorb xylitol very quickly, and it triggers large amounts of insulin to be produced. This then leads to a sudden drop in blood sugar levels which can be fatal if untreated.

“Thankfully Ginny has recovered well from her ordeal and can now get back to helping Luc.

“Please contact your vet immediately or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital, if you are worried your dog has eaten xylitol.

“It’s fairly straightforward to treat a drop in blood sugar levels as glucose can be given via an intravenous drip. But without quick treatment, seizures and death can occur.”

There are five Vets Now clinics within a 45-minute drive of Rachael and Pierre’s home in Harpenden.

The closest are Vets Now Hemel Hempstead and Vets Now Luton with Vets Now High Wycombe, Vets Now Harrow and Vets Now Ilford slightly further afield.

Four of the five have recently been rated as “outstanding” in the delivery of emergency and critical care by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Overall, there are 60 Vets Now clinics and pet emergency hospitals across the UK that are open through the night, seven-days-a-week, and day and night on weekends and bank holidays, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur.

All of Vets Now’s out-of-hours clinics and 24/7 hospitals have a vet and vet nurse on site at all times.