What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener which is used as a sugar substitute in baking and confectionary. It is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol which can also be found in human medicines, vitamin supplements and toothpaste.
However, its use is becoming more prevalent as an alternative for sugar for making cakes and biscuits and is often found in sugar-free versions of products, such as peanut butter and chewing gum. Unfortunately, this food additive is highly poisonous to dogs.
Why Is It Toxic?
Xylitol causes a release of insulin from the pancreas which leads to hypoglycaemia as normal blood sugar is removed from the bloodstream rather than the sugar substitute itself. This means the pet’s blood sugar level becomes too low and can result in collapse and seizures.
Additionally, xylitol can also cause liver damage meaning vital functions cannot be performed by the hepatic system, such as metabolism or prolonged blood clotting times. Though, this does not mean that every canine that has ingested xylitol will experience liver impairment.
How Much Xylitol Is Dangerous?
Generally, it is assumed that 50-100mg of xylitol per kilogram can cause problems, although even a small amount can be dangerous.
Side effects are dependent on each individual dog rather than the amount ingested. This means that your dog only has to have to eaten 1–2 pieces of sugar- free chewing gum to have disastrous consequences.
What Are The Symptoms To Look Out For?
Signs of poisoning often occur within 2 hours of ingestion, but liver effects can be seen up to 3 days later.
Symptoms may include: drowsiness, wobbliness or weakness in legs, lethargy, an increased heart rate, vomiting, collapse and seizures, along with liver failure.
What Should You Do If You Think Your Dog Has Eaten Xylitol?
If you think your pet has eaten a product containing the food additive, it is vital to seek veterinary treatment immediately. It can be useful to bring the packaging with you, so the amount ingested can be calculated.
Vomiting can be induced if the pet is seen soon enough and a meal of activated charcoal will help to ensure there is limited uptake from the digestive tract.
Treating the poisoning earlier will improve the prognosis – for instance, if the hypoglycaemia is managed without complications. Blood tests may be performed to check blood sugar levels and liver function, and further treatment may be indicated. However, prognosis may be poor if liver failure is present.