The dangers of xylitol to dogs
Recently there has been quite a bit of promotion of the use of sweetening agents in cooking rather than sugar; helping us humans to reduce our calorie intake. The most common sweetening agent used is xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
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 complete opposite is true for our canine pets.
So, why is xylitol poisonous to dogs?
Xylitol has two effects on the body:
- Blood sugar is controlled by insulin which is a hormone released from the pancreas. (This hormone if no longer produced causes sugar diabetes.) When we eat a meal sugars are absorbed into our blood and insulin production is stimulated that pushes the glucose into cells and allows them to function. Xylitol has a similar effect on insulin, but it is more potent than sugars. As a result more sugars are pushed into cells from the blood stream so there is much less present to be used by other cells, producing hypoglycaemia (decreased blood sugar). With less sugar in the blood stream your dog may faint or may even suffer from seizures.
- By an unknown mechanism xylitol affects the liver causing damage. As a result the liver cannot properly perform many of its normal functions. Whereas in the case of the effects on insulin where the effect depends on the dose, in the livers case there is a feeling that any dose can cause this problem and that dogs will react in different ways.
So what can I do to protect my dog?
If you want to bake a cake and you want to offer a piece to your canine friend then don’t use a sweetener. Similarly if you do use a sweetener, make sure your Mary Berry delight is safely tucked away in a tin out of the way. (Of course what we’d really recommend is giving them a doggy treat and not a human one – much safer all round!)
Xylitol is also used widely in other products such as sugar free chewing gum and nicotine replacement gum as well as other products, so if anything is advertised as being sugar free please keep it out of reach of your pet.
What should I do if my dog has ingested Xylitol?
Please call your vet immediately. The profound drop in blood glucose is fairly straightforward to treat as glucose can be given via an intravenous drip, but without it seizures and death could occur. The liver effect is more difficult to reverse and will depend on your dog’s response to Xylitol once in the blood stream, so overall the advice is, please be aware and be careful of artificial sweeteners.
This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health - even if they are closed, they will always have an out of hours service available. Find out more
about what to do in an out of hours emergency.
Bronte was rushed to Vets Now after sneakily stealing a 250g packet of granulated xylitol.