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As a pet parent, you know there are some foods your dog can't eat, including chocolate, onions, raisins, and garlic. Keeping toxic foods away from your pet is easy, especially when you know what not to feed them. However, some human foods that appear safe for dogs aren't. Of course, it's normal to want to share some food with your pet, especially if they give you those big puppy eyes while you eat. However, when sharing any type of snack or food with your dog, it's crucial to ensure it's safe for them and won't cause any side effects.
Unfortunately, even snacks that may seem the safest are dangerous for dogs, including those with xylitol. For example, peanut butter is one of the most popular treats for pets. However, some peanut butter isn't safe for dogs because it contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener safe for humans but toxic to pets.
Xylitol poisonings are fairly common, and from 2013 to 2018, there was a 230% increase in xylitol poisoning cases.1 Xylitol is a poison that can prove fatal to dogs, depending on how much they consume and their weight. Most pet parents have heard of xylitol but believe it's only in sugar-free gum and other foods. However, xylitol is used in a variety of food and non-food products, including beauty products, supplements, and even toothpaste. Xylitol toxicity can occur when dogs eat any products that contain the toxin, so it's important to check the ingredients in your food items before feeding them to your dog. In addition, if your dog accidentally eats non-food items like human toothpaste or even lip balm, you should check the ingredients to ensure they don't contain xylitol because if they do, the consequences could be deadly.
- What Is Xylitol?
- What Foods & Household Items Contain Xylitol?
- Is Xylitol Bad For Humans And Pets?
- How Much Xylitol Is Toxic To Dogs?
- Signs Of Xylitol Poisoning
- What To Do If Your Dog Ingests Xylitol
- How Is Xylitol Poisoning Treated?
- Prevention Tips
- Final Notes
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar substitute found in tons of food and non-food items ranging from jelly and yogurt to household products like lip balm.1 It's even in some brands of peanut butter, although most major brands like Jif, Skippy, and Smuckers do not contain any xylitol, so they're safe for your pet. However, many other brands use xylitol as a sweetener in their products, so you should always read the label before sharing any with your dog.
Brands put xylitol in their products because it's sweet but contains fewer calories and is lower on the glycemic index, so it's a popular ingredient for sugar-free products like chewing gum and even some beverages.
Xylitol is safe for humans but not pets because it stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas in dogs.2 When dogs eat xylitol, it's quickly absorbed into their bloodstream, releasing insulin and rapidly decreasing blood sugar levels, causing potentially fatal hypoglycemia.2 Xylitol in dogs is fast-acting and can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour before they start exhibiting symptoms.
What Does Xylitol Look Like?
Xylitol resembles sugar in appearance; it's a white, crystalline powder in its natural form. However, like sugar, it's not always visible and can be hidden in many different foods and household items. Xylitol has been approved for use in different products, including foods, toothpaste, and even supplements, and as we get more health-conscious, the amount of products containing xylitol continues to grow since people are opting for sugar-free alternatives to their regular foods.
What Foods & Household Items Contain Xylitol?
There are many different foods and household items that contain xylitol, including:
- Sugar-free gum
- Breath mints
- Baked goods
- Cough syrup
- Children's and adult chewable vitamins
- Some peanut and nut butter
- Over-the-counter medicines
- Dietary supplements
- Sugar-free desserts, including "skinny" ice cream2
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, which is why it's so important for pet parents to read the ingredients of products in their homes. To be on the safe side and ensure your dog will never get their paws on a product containing xylitol, you should read the ingredients while at the store and only purchase xylitol-free products.
Ultimately, be on the lookout for xylitol in products found in any:
- Sugar-free foods
- Dental care products
- Beauty products
- Medications and supplements4
If your dog eats any of these products, even if it's a small amount, take them to the nearest emergency vet immediately. Xylitol is extremely toxic, even in small doses, depending on your dog's size. Small animals are more susceptible to toxicosis because of their size.
Is Xylitol Bad For Humans And Pets?
Xylitol is safe for humans and may even be beneficial for those looking to cut down on their sugar intake, lose weight, and for those suffering from diabetes. The blood sugar level in humans and pets is controlled by insulin. However, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin in humans like it does in dogs.
Xylitol in dogs stimulates the production of insulin because the pancreas confuses it with real sugar, and insulin is released to store it. However, this actually has the opposite of the intended effect because insulin removes real sugar from the bloodstream, causing a drop in the dog's blood sugar that can cause weakness, tremors, and seizures within less than an hour after consumption.1
Many dogs experience symptoms ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to seizures and even liver failure and death, depending on how much they've consumed. Unfortunately, the symptoms can take up to eight hours for pet parents to notice something is wrong with their dog.1 Unfortunately, small amounts of xylitol are fatal, so if a small dog eats a small amount of peanut butter that contains xylitol, they can get sick.
How Much Xylitol Is Toxic To Dogs?
As we've mentioned, xylitol is toxic to dogs in small amounts, so any amount can be deadly, depending on your dog's size. Dogs that ingest doses of >0.1 g/kg (2.2lbs) of xylitol can develop dangerous hypoglycemia, and dogs that ingest more are at risk of liver failure within a matter of minutes or hours.3
Unfortunately, products contain varying amounts of xylitol, so you'll never really know how much xylitol your dog consumed unless they ate it in its pure, sugary form. Therefore, the amount of product that a dog needs to consume before becoming ill will vary. For example, if a peanut butter product contains more xylitol than lip balm, your dog may become sick from a few licks of peanut butter while they have to eat an entire lip balm for xylitol to take effect.
Even low amounts of xylitol can be dangerous to pets, causing hypoglycemia, while high amounts cause liver failure, so you should never wait to see how your dog will react after consuming a product that contains xylitol. Because there's such a large range of the amounts of xylitol in different products and brands, vets will try to determine whether the dog ingested a toxic amount.
Signs Of Xylitol Poisoning
Xylitol poisoning may give your dog symptoms of an upset stomach, so if you're unsure what they ate, it may be difficult to determine whether or not they've been poisoned. Most dogs with xylitol poisoning will experience some of the following symptoms:
These symptoms are all because the dog's blood sugar has dropped, causing hypoglycemia. Many dogs may experience tremors or other symptoms within only a few minutes after consuming xylitol.4 Symptoms of hypoglycemia can appear in just 30 minutes, but it can take up to 12 hours or more for you to notice any signs in your dog.4 The faster you act, the better your dog's outlook, so even if you're unsure whether they consumed xylitol, it's always best to take them to the vet for examination. The earlier you catch the poisoning, the easier it will be for your vet to treat.
For example, if your dog consumes toothpaste, check the ingredients. If it contains xylitol, take your dog to the nearest emergency vet. Of course, if your dog consumes any non-food product that could be potentially dangerous, you should always consult a vet. In this example, even if the toothpaste does not contain xylitol, it may contain other ingredients, such as peppermint, that can be dangerous to your dog.
The most common cause of xylitol poisoning in dogs is accidental ingestion of something that contains xylitol, meaning foods like baked goods or gum, and even beauty products like lip balm, some moisturizers, and even shampoos. Unfortunately, since many products contain xylitol, poisoning is relatively common in dogs.4
Additionally, many products are not clearly labeled that they contain xylitol. Another word companies may use on their labels is "artificial sweetener" or "birch sugar."4 Therefore, if you see either of these words on a product your dog has consumed, take them to the vet immediately for treatment because it could be xylitol or another potentially harmful sweetener.
Believe it or not, the most common cause of xylitol poisoning isn't peanut butter. Most pet parents are aware that some brands of peanut butter contain xylitol so they only purchase products that don't. Instead, the most common product lying around your home that dogs consume and become poisoned by is sugar-free gum.4
Sugar-free gum smells good to dogs, and since it's wrapped in thin paper, there's really nothing stopping your dog from eating it once they get their paws on it. Dogs may find gum by going through pockets or purses, or you might have gum lying around your home on tables or countertops. Remember, dogs will eat just about anything, so there's no reason to think your dog won't eat gum if you leave it out.
Most sugar-free gums contain 0.2 to 1.0 grams of xylitol per piece, and since xylitol is toxic in small amounts, just one piece of sugar-free gum can cause hypoglycemia in a small dog.4 If you choose to chew sugar-free gum, the key is to keep it away from your dog; don't leave it somewhere they can get it. Sugar-free gum smells like food to dogs, so leaving it in your easily accessible purse or on a table isn't safe for your dog.
What To Do If Your Dog Ingests Xylitol
If your dog ingests xylitol, don't wait to take them to the vet, even if you believe it was just a small amount. Even in small amounts, xylitol is dangerous to dogs, and it's often difficult to determine how much your dog actually ate. Even if you're unsure whether your dog ate something with xylitol, it's better to err on the side of caution and have them examined by a vet immediately.
Hypoglycemia and its serious side effects can occur quickly in some dogs, but in others, it may take up to 12 to 24 hours, so your dog may need to be hospitalized and monitored by professionals to ensure they can remove the toxins from their system safely.2
If it's after hours and your regular vet's office isn't open, you'll need to find an emergency veterinary clinic in your area. Call ahead to let them know you're coming so they can prepare to see your dog as soon as you arrive.
How Is Xylitol Poisoning Treated?
Early treatment is crucial if your dog consumes xylitol. Since the amount of xylitol in products varies, and many brands don't tell exactly how much xylitol is in their products, you should never assume your dog only had a small amount that won't affect them. A good outcome depends on how quickly your dog is treated for poisoning.1
When you visit your vet, they'll ask for information about what the dog consumed and how much. It may also be helpful to bring the label of the product they ate to help your vet determine whether or not they consumed a toxic amount of xylitol. Vets will also perform various testing to determine the toxicity of the xylitol. A few diagnostic tests they'll perform include:
- A complete blood count
- Serum blood chemistry
If your dog has been poisoned, your vet will keep them hospitalized to monitor their blood sugar over the next few days and ensure there is no liver damage.4
Treatment of xylitol poisoning in dogs includes early decontamination in asymptomatic patients and IV dextrose to manage hypoglycemia and its symptoms.5 Your vet will also monitor your dog throughout their treatment to ensure it's working.
When your dog's liver values are normal after 72 hours, there will likely be no long-term damage, and you can take them home. In general, the prognosis is good for uncomplicated cases of xylitol poisoning in dogs, so quick treatment is crucial. However, the prognosis gets worse the longer you wait to get your dog treated. Many dogs with liver injury die despite getting treatment, but you can prevent liver injury by taking your dog to the vet as soon as you believe they consumed something with xylitol.5
Xylitol poisoning is 100% preventable, and preventing your dog from consuming any products that may contain xylitol could save their life. Here are a few tips to help you prevent xylitol poisoning in dogs:
- Read product labels: When you come home from the grocery store or drug store, read all the product labels to determine which products contain or might contain xylitol. Remember, xylitol might be hidden in the ingredients list as "artificial sweetener" or "birch sugar." If you're ever unsure if something contains xylitol, you can always store it with other items that contain xylitol where your dog can't reach them.
- Don't buy products that contain xylitol: If you truly want to protect your pet without having to worry about what you feed them or what they get into, don't buy products that contain xylitol. While many products contain xylitol, many don't. In addition, not all toothpaste or baked goods contain xylitol. By reading the labels in the store before buying, you can ensure you don't accidentally bring home any products that may be toxic to your dog.
- Consider storage: If you choose to buy products with xylitol, it's crucial to keep them away from your pet. Store those products on a shelf in a closet where your dog can't get them. Dogs are smart, so if you truly want to keep them away from xylitol, you may have to consider which items you can store better. For example, if you keep sugar-free gum in your purse, store your purse on a counter where your dog can't get into it. In addition, be more mindful of what you give your dog and where you put things. For example, while you may think leaving a peanut butter sandwich that contains xylitol on the counter is safe, tall dogs may be able to get it.
- Don't use human toothpaste on pets: If you brush your dog's teeth at home, never use human toothpaste, which may contain xylitol and other harmful ingredients like peppermint. Instead, only use toothpaste designed for dogs to prevent potential toxicosis.
- Be mindful of what you feed your pet: It's normal for pet parents to share food with their dogs, and many use peanut butter in treat dispensing toys or as a distraction when bathing their dog. However, if you give your dog peanut butter, always check the label or purchase from brands that state on their websites that their products don't contain xylitol.
- Educate children and guests: If you have children or guests in the house, educate them on not leaving their purses in places the dogs can get them. In addition, don't let children feed your pet anything without first asking you. Children may think feeding a dog any human food is safe, but many of them are toxic even if they don't contain xylitol. Remember, you know your dog best. If they have a habit of counter surfing or going through bags, you should have a safe place for your guests to put their belongings where your dog can't get into them.
- Be prepared: While no one wants to have to take a trip to the emergency vet, you should always be prepared in case something happens to your dog. You can keep the Pet Poison Helpline phone number on your cell phone or posted on your refrigerator in case there's an emergency when someone else is home with your dog. In addition, you can know where to find emergency care when you need it. Search for the nearest emergency vet clinics in your area to ensure you know where they are and what their hours are. Knowing about these clinics will ensure you have somewhere to take your dog if they consume xylitol or any other toxin after-hours. Being prepared can save you time when you need to get your dog's help immediately. Instead of looking up emergency clinic phone numbers and addresses on your phone after your dog consumes xylitol, you'll already know exactly where you need to take them.
Xylitol poisoning in dogs is an immediate medical emergency. Unfortunately, even just a small amount of xylitol is toxic to dogs and can be fatal in a matter of hours. Therefore, pet parents should always read food and non-food product labels to ensure your dog doesn't consume xylitol and keep any potentially harmful products out of your dog's reach.
If your dog consumes xylitol, take them to the nearest emergency vet as soon as possible for treatment. Wondering what foods are safe for your pet? Talk to a Dutch vet. Dutch offers non-emergency vet services to help you find safe foods for pets while providing virtual pet care when you need it. Whether you're wondering which pain meds are safe for dogs or which human foods you can share with Fido, Dutch can help.
Robins, Mary. "What Is Xylitol? the Dangers of Xylitol for Dogs – American Kennel Club." American Kennel Club, 17 May 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dangers-of-xylitol/.
"Paws off Xylitol; It's Dangerous for Dogs." U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/paws-xylitol-its-dangerous-dogs.
M,Piscitelli; CM, Dunayer; EK, Aumann. "Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs." Compendium (Yardley, PA), U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20473849/.
"Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_dg_xylitol_toxicity.
Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon M. "Xylitol Toxicosis in Dogs - Toxicology." Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/xylitol-toxicosis-in-dogs#v8546980.