What is xylitol?

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

While xylitol 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 sweet treats.

What should I do if my dog has swallowed xylitol?

For dogs, xylitol ingestion can lead to seizures or even death, so it’s important to contact your vet immediately or, out of hours, nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital.

Image of dog eating food for Vets Now article on dog xylitol poisoning
Xylitol can be found in some of our favourite sweet treats but is very dangerous for dogs

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How much xylitol is poisonous to dogs?

Regardless of the amount of xylitol dogs eat, serious health issues can occur.

As a rule of thumb, it’s estimated that 50-100mg of xylitol per kilogram of body weight, can cause hypoglycemia (see explanation below). If that’s accurate, then xylitol is even more toxic to dogs than the stimulant theobromine, which is found in chocolate.

Why is xylitol gum so dangerous for dogs?

Xylitol poisoning in dogs most commonly occurs as a result of dogs eating chewing gum, specifically the sugar-free variety. Some brands reportedly contain as much as one gram in each piece. That means it could take just three pieces of xylitol gum to leave a 30kg dog, such as a Labrador, seriously ill.

What causes xylitol poisoning in dogs?

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.

Image of a dog for vets now article on dog xylitol poisoning
It's best to avoid giving your dog any home baking, especially if sweeteners have been used

What are the symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs?

After ingesting xylitol, dogs typically develop symptoms within 30 minutes (although they can be very rapid or take up to 12 hours). Signs of dog xylitol poisoning can include:

  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • weakness
  • difficulty with walking
  • collapse

Liver failure may also occur and, as a result, your pet may suffer seizures or lapse into a coma. The prognosis for liver failure is poor.

Dog xylitol ingestion. What are the side effects?

Ingestion of xylitol can lead to hypoglycaemia — dangerously low blood sugar — and with less sugar in the bloodstream, 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 is the treatment for dog xylitol poisoning?

It’s fairly straightforward to treat any drop in your dog’s blood sugar levels as glucose can be given via an intravenous drip. The liver damage is harder to reverse and will depend on your dog’s response to xylitol once in its bloodstream.

What can I do to protect my dog from xylitol toxicity?

You should avoid feeding your dog any home baking, especially 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 found in their owner’s bag. Any product advertised as sugar-free should be kept out of reach of your pet.

What other products is xylitol 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.