What You Need to Know About Xylitol



The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning about xylitol, a sugar substitute that’s found in many household items. While the sweetener is perfectly fine for human consumption, it can cause death in dogs in under an hour. It’s found in items such as breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste, dietary supplements, sugar-free gum and even certain kinds of peanut butter, a favorite treat for dogs.


Xylitol affects people differently than dogs because in humans, it does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. When a canine consumes xylitol, its bloodstream quickly absorbs the sweetener, which can result in a high amount of insulin being released from the pancreas. Too much insulin can cause hypoglycemia, a decrease in blood sugar that can be life-threatening.


Dogs can eat xylitol by getting into places they’re not supposed to, such as a purse that contains chewing gum. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include vomiting, weakness, decreased activity, staggering, incoordination, collapse and seizures. A dog that has eaten xylitol should be taken to the vet immediately, where it will likely be monitored after treatment. In some cases, harmful effects may not be apparent for 12 to 24 hours. 


For cats, xylitol does not seem to result in the same harmful effects—it helps that cats often dislike sweet items and will not consume much of them. However, for ferrets, xylitol can result in deadly hypoglycemia.


The FDA recommends that pet parents prevent xylitol poisoning in dogs by ensuring that any items containing xylitol are kept out of their canines’ reach. They should also only use pet toothpaste—rather than human toothpaste—to brush their dogs’ teeth. Human foods that can double as tasty dog treats should have their ingredients reviewed carefully before being given to a pet. By taking these steps, pet parents can help ensure their pups’ health and safety. 


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