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Xylitol – It’s in Your Food and It’s Toxic to Dogs

By Amy Fernandez

Those annoying holiday lists of unsafe food items usually get airplay around Christmastime. The thing is that even without those lists, common sense tells us that some stuff might cause canine digestive disarray. My point is that dogs don’t read the lists, and perhaps we need to work on that because an alarming number of owners don’t seem cognizant of this basic stuff either.

That’s certainly the opinion of CC reader Karen Hanson. Karen, by the way, works for Markel, a major insurance carrier that many of you probably know since they write policies for various dog care professionals, clubs and events. That’s not her only stake in the game. She’s bred and shown Brittanys for 40 years, including National Specialty winners like GCHP Labyrinth N Illusion Slippery When Wet, JH. So why is Karen on the warpath?

Because over the last couple of years, in both a personal and professional capacity she has encountered too many dogs dying from accidental Xylitol poisoning.

Hanson says, “It was really shocking how many people have no idea that most sugar free gums can kill a dog.” It’s not just gum, of course. “Most people have no idea how many products contain this ingredient or the fact that a small amount can be potentially lethal to dogs. Most products that contain Xylitol have no warnings that they are toxic to dogs,” she says. That’s not likely to happen since these products are labeled and sold for human consumption. Therefore government regulators are off the hook in this case, which makes it the ideal moment to launch into a boring rundown about Xylitol, since, as Karen notes, many of you seem to be asleep at the wheel.

Xylitol is technically a natural substance, extracted from various botanical sources. It’s used in numerous sugar-free/diet/low cal versions of junk food and pharmaceutical products that must be palatable such as toothpaste and mouthwash. It’s been around for a century, but the Xylitol mainline, which came about in response to WWII sugar shortages, has made it fairly common in many sugar-free products. It’s not the only popular sugar substitute, but it’s out there enough to prompt this story, okay? Needless to say, it is FDA-approved for human consumption. Actually, there is some valid research showing that it actually helps prevent tooth decay. But this is strictly for products labeled and sold FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.

For poorly understood reasons dogs have a compromised ability to metabolize Xylitol. It stimulates a rapid, profound insulin surge, otherwise known as hypoglycemia. Clinical signs include vomiting, weakness, sudden loss of coordination, lethargy, seizures, and coma, which can definitely kill you. Many factors influence Xylitol’s impact on insulin levels, which complicates things. The size, age, and general condition of the dog obviously filters the effects, along with the method of ingestion. Hypoglycemia can develop within 30 minutes of ingestion or possibly 12–18 hours later or, if you’re lucky, never. Even a small dose can severely affect some dogs, others not so much. Moreover, the onset of symptoms can range from mild to fatal. A bigger threat is Xylitol-induced liver damage, which likewise can vary from never to immediate and obviously major organ failure is never a good prognosis.

This type of poisoning can be both rapid and unpredictable therefore it’s best to initiate professional veterinary treatment as soon as you are aware of your dog ingesting Xylitol or exhibiting symptoms of ingestion. Making the dog throw up does not work in this type of poisoning situation. The dog should be hospitalized and given IV fluids to stabilize its glucose levels, which should be monitored along with its liver enzymes. With luck, hypoglycemia or liver damage will be averted. If not, the result may be the death of a favorite canine companion.

Karen would like to see a ban on Xylitol. Unfortunately, we’re more likely to see it in more products as our health conscious public seeks to minimize sugar consumption. Junk food won’t go out of style any time soon, and you shouldn’t be eating it anyway. But think twice and read the label before you share with your four-legged friend lurking under the coffee table.

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Posted by on Apr 16 2019. Filed under Featured, Health & Training. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • June 2020