Xylitol is a common sugar substitute. It is often found in gum, toothpaste and some types of peanut butter. Some people use it at home to bake lower calorie sweets. While very safe for people, it is potentially deadly for dogs.
The two main issues with xylitol are hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hepatic necrosis (liver failure). In the dog, the pancreas confuses xylitol with real sugar and releases insulin. This causes the blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in weakness, disorientation, tremors, and potentially seizures. Symptoms usually begin within 30 minutes and can last for more than 12 hours. Vomiting starts first, and then symptoms progress to incoordination, collapse, and seizures. The other problem with xylitol is that it can cause the destruction of liver tissue. It typically takes a more substantial amount of xylitol to produce this effect. Signs take longer to occur (usually 8 to 12 hours). Death is possible due to internal hemorrhage due to compromise of clotting factors.
The toxic dose of xylitol is 0.075-0.1 g/kg. Gum has variable amounts of xylitol depending on flavour. A small dog can be poisoned by one stick of gum depending on the brand and flavour. Peanut butter is also worrisome, as some people use it in Kongs, etc.- if you give your dog peanut butter make sure it is xylitol free.
Treatment for xylitol toxicity is the induction of vomiting if the animal recently consumed it. Some dogs may need a glucose IV drip. Liver and clotting values are monitored for several days. Some dogs have died due to severe liver failure. Please call your vet right away if you suspect xylitol ingestion.
Written by Dr. Celeste Forgeron, DVM