Xylitol and pets.

At some point in time, almost all pets eat something other than their designated food. Whether it is scraps from your dinner, a tempting treat left out accidentally in the path of a curious critter, an innocent treat from your grandma, or a trash can raid, pets eat things that they shouldn’t. 

Knowing what potential problems your pet might encounter in your home can make you a better pet parent. One common danger that can lurk in the average home is xylitol. Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital wants all of our readers to be aware of xylitol poisoning in pets and how to best prevent it.

The Danger of Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is commonly used as a sweetener. When people ingest it, it creates a sweet flavoring with no ill effects. It is a different story in pets, though.

Because animals seem to ingest the compound so quickly (in less than 30 minutes compared with hours for humans), their body tends to have an extreme reaction to it. The rapid influx of the sugar substitute into the bloodstream causes the pancreas to release a large bolus of insulin, resulting in an extreme drop in blood sugar. This hypoglycemia can be life-threatening and can occur for up to 24 hours following ingestion.

In addition, xylitol can also have severe effects on the liver in some animals who have ingested it. 

Even more concerning is that only a small amount of xylitol needs to be ingested before symptoms occur. As little as 50 mg of xylitol per kilogram of body weight can lead to trouble. One piece of sugar-free gum can contain over 1000 mg, meaning one piece of gum could be devastating to a 20-pound dog. 

Where Trouble Lurks

Xylitol is a widely-used ingredient and is likely lurking in your home even now. Some places are a lot more obvious than others. Check to see if it in the ingredient list in your:

  • Sugar-free gum and candy
  • Sugar-free baked goods
  • Nonfat greek yogurt
  • Sugar-free peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Powdered drink mixes
  • Sugar-free pudding
  • Ketchup and barbecue sauce
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Medications (especially meltaway varieties)
  • Cough drops or throat lozenges
  • Vitamins
  • Deodorant
  • Lip balm
  • Facial care products
  • Lotions and hand creams

Being aware of what is in your home that might be hazardous is a good first step. Knowledge allows you to make substitutions if you wish or to take precautions to be sure that your pet is not accidentally exposed. How devastating would it be for you to give your dog their antibiotic in a dollop of sugar-free peanut butter containing xylitol?

Preventing Xylitol Poisoning in Pets

In most instances, preventing xylitol poisoning in pets is a doable task. Be sure to:

  • Check the ingredient list for any new products in your home for xylitol, birch sugar, or sugar alcohols
  • Consider whether your pet is highly likely to be exposed and weigh the benefits of having xylitol-containing products in your home vs the risk (aggressive chewers and curious puppies are more likely to have an exposure)
  • Keep xylitol-containing products in a secure, pet-safe location
  • Consider labeling xylitol-containing products as dangerous to pets so that all household members are aware
  • Place purses, backpacks, and coats up off the ground where pets cannot get them (this can prevent multiple other pet toxicities as well)
  • When taking medications, consider doing so in a location away from pets so that an accidentally dropped pill does not become disastrous

Of course, if you suspect that your pet may have ingested any amount of xylitol, do not delay in calling us right away. Xylitol poisoning in pets is an emergency, and the faster you act, the better. With quick action and aggressive supportive care, the prognosis is often good. Once clinical signs ensue, though, things can become much more dire. 

Xylitol is a handy ingredient for many reasons, but it’s not one that is beneficial to our pets. Take precautions in your home to be sure that your pet is not harmed by this fairly ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous ingredient.