Xylitol – A commonly found compound that is poisonous to dogs

What on earth is Xylitol, I hear you say. It’s a product used in lots of sugar-free products such as sugar-free gum, drinks and sweeteners. It can also be found in some cakes, chocolates & other produce where it is a substitute for sugar. What’s the harm in that if it keeps the pounds off? Unfortunately it is highly toxic to dogs so you need to make sure your dogs don’t have access to it. Dogs love to raid the fridge, the cupboard and anywhere else they think they may find a tasty morsel to see them through to their next meal. This leaves them at risk if they can get to any of these products, so best to keep them in cupboards that are above work surfaces so they can’t get their paws into them. Sugar free gum is the most common product Xylitol is found in so particular care needs to be taken when buying this. Don’t leave open packets lying around and make sure unopened packets are safely tucked away. It can also be found in dental products including toothpaste & mouthwash. These should never be used on your dog unless they are specifically ‘Animal Toothpastes’.

How much is harmful? I’m afraid to say that even very small amounts can be harmful to dogs – ingesting as little as 100milligrams of xylitol per kilogram of bodyweight may cause a life threatening hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). One piece of sugar free gum will generally contain about 0.3g of xylitol, while others can contain as much as 1g in each piece. If a cake recipe requires 1 cup of xylitol to make 24 cupcakes, then two cupcakes could cause acute liver disease in a 50lb dog. Smaller dogs are more at risk and need to receive immediate treatment if you know they have ingested xylitol or are showing the common symptoms. A drop in blood sugar can occur within 15 minutes and symptoms can start to present after around 30 minutes.

What are the Symptoms? The commonest symptoms are

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements / stumbling around)
  • Depression
  • Hypokalemia (decreased potassium)
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Liver dysfunction and/or failure

Vomiting is usually the first symptom, but your dog can vomit for many reasons, so it is important to try to ascertain the cause quickly and see what they may have eaten. The signs of hypoglycaemia can be lethargy, ataxia, collapse & seizures. If vomiting is accompanied by any of these then you need to contact your vet immediately. Sometimes dogs do not display the signs of hypoglycaemia prior to the onset of liver failure, instead lethargy and vomiting occurred 9-72 hours after ingestion.  This was accompanied by spots of bleeding on the skin & mucus membranes (e.g.  gums) and bleeding into the stomach.

What should I do if I think my dog has ingested Xylitol? It is important to try to establish the source so that you can tell your vet what your dog has ingested and how much of it. Contact your vet immediately and give them the details. You should not induce vomiting unless specifically instructed by your vet. Follow your vet’s advice, which will almost certainly be to bring them in as quickly as possible for treatment.  Your dog will probably be treated with dextrose (a type of sugar) to raise their blood sugar levels and also medication to prevent liver disease. If your dog has only ingested a small amount of xylitol and receives immediate treatment, then the chances are they will make a good recovery. However larger doses or where treatment isn’t promptly given will likely have a poor prognosis and can be fatal.

Remember Prevention is better than cure, so always keep products containing xylitol away from your dog. If you think they may have ingested xylitol, contact your vet immediately telling them how much and when.