Did You Know Xylitol Can Have Serious and Fatal Effects in Dogs?
Kaiya is a 2 year old Husky who, a couple of weeks ago, ate protein bars baked by her owner. Several hours later, she started vomiting and having diarrhea. Many of us have naughty pets that get into things they should not, and typically the worst we see as a result is some digestive upset. In this case, however, the protein bars were made using xylitol as a sugar substitute. Xylitol is a very toxic substance for dogs.
When the owner called Bothell Pet Hospital the next day, we advised taking Kaiya to an emergency hospital, suspecting that intensive care would be required. Upon admission, her blood results indicated severely elevated liver values. One enzyme, which leaks into the bloodstream from damaged liver cells was 240 times normal! Also, her blood clotting times were markedly prolonged (the liver produces blood clotting factors- and if liver function is compromised, production of these proteins can be decreased).
Kaiya spent 5 days at the specialty center, being treated with intravenous fluids and liver protectants, and she received plasma transfusions to replace clotting factors as well. Happily, she was discharged once she was eating on her own and feeling stronger. A recheck of her blood work 10 days later showed amazing improvement! The liver is a body organ that is able to heal itself once the insult is removed if there has not been irreversible damage.
Fortunately Kaiya survived this toxicity, even though her prognosis was very guarded. She is unlikely to have any long term effects. But the ending is not always so happy. It takes very little xylitol to cause clinical signs in dogs.
Two effects of ingestion are hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and liver injury. There are established toxic doses that we use to determine what treatment, if any, is indicated. Per calculations, 1-1/2 sticks of xylitol-containing gum can cause hypoglycemia in a 10 pound dog. In order to cause liver damage, that same dog would need to eat a full package of the gum.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is being used increasingly as a sugar substitute in many products. We now see it as an ingredient in gums, candy, baked goods, and peanut butter (yes, peanut butter—so be careful for those of you who use it as a treat or as means to administer medication). In humans, it has cavity-prevention properties, so it is now found in oral hygiene products as well.
While consumption is considered safe for people, dogs can develop serious, if not fatal, effects from ingestion.
So far, ASPCA Animal Poison Control has not received reports of Xylitol issues in cats.
There are now several products on the market containing xylitol for dental care in the pet industry. The product is added to the drinking water for its antibacterial action. The content of the xylitol, if used according to directions, is low enough to not have any adverse effects. Care must be taken to dose for the smallest pet in the home if multiple pets share a water bowl.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control receives thousands of reports of xylitol cases every year, and the numbers are increasing as more products containing the sugar substitute are becoming available. Be very careful if you have any in your home!