What is xylitol and why is it dangerous for dogs?

Over the past few years there’s been a big increase in the use of sugar substitutes and sweetening agents. One of most common is xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in some fruits and vegetables.

While it can be found in many products, such as sugar-free chewing gum and chewable vitamins, it’s also becoming increasingly popular in baking. That means there’s a possibility it may be present in cakes and other treats.

How much xylitol is too much?

Any amount can cause serious health issues, particularly in dogs. But, as a rule of thumb, it’s estimated that 50-100mg of xylitol per kilogram of body weight, can cause hypoglycemia. If that’s accurate, then xylitol is even more toxic to dogs than the stimulant theobromine, which is found in chocolate.

The most common cause of xylitol poisoning is sugar-free chewing gum and some brands reportedly contain as much as one gram in each piece. That means it could take just three pieces to leave a 30kg dog, such as a Labrador, seriously ill.

Why is xylitol poisonous to dogs?

Xylitol has two effects on the body:

In humans and non-primates such as dogs and cats, blood sugar is controlled by insulin which is a hormone released from the pancreas. If insulin is no longer produced sugar diabetes results. In humans, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin. But that’s not the case in dogs which absorb it very quickly. This can result in hypoglycaemia — dangerously low blood sugar — and with less sugar in the blood stream your dog may faint or suffer from seizures, which can be fatal.

Xylitol can also damage the liver. As a result, the liver can’t properly perform many of its normal functions. The severity of this often depends on the dog rather than the dose so even a tiny amount of xylitol can cause serious health issues.

What should I do if my pet has swallowed xylitol?

Please contact your vet immediately or, out of hours, find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital here. It’s fairly straightforward to treat any drop in blood sugar levels as glucose can be given via an intravenous drip. But without it, seizures and death could occur. The liver damage is harder to reverse and will depend on your dog’s response to xylitol once in its bloodstream.


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What can I do to protect my dog?

It’s important to avoid feeding your dog any home baking if sweeteners have been used.  Similarly, if you do use a sweetener, make sure it is stored safely. Xylitol is also used widely in sugar-free chewing gum and dogs are often poisoned after swallowing gum they found in their owner’s bag. If anything is advertised as sugar-free please keep it out of reach of your pet.

What other products is it found in?

Xylitol is contained in a whole host of sugar-free products you probably didn’t know about, including some baking and pudding mixes, cakes and buns, sugar-free chewing gum and mints, flavoured waters, medicines and vitamins, jams and honey, protein bars, toothpaste and mouthwash, jelly sweeties, peanut butter and cosmetics and baby wipes.