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Xylitol Poisoning: the Tasty Toxin Killing Dogs & Cats

xylitol poisoning in pets

It’s a pretty well-known fact that chocolate is toxic to pets. But did you know there are lots of other things just as dangerous to our four-legged friends? Some of them are even more dangerous.

One of the lesser-known, highly toxic substances is xylitol. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry. You’re about to learn all about this mysterious ingredient and how to protect your pet from its harmful effects.

Continue reading to learn:

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol. Its chemical structure is similar to both sugar and alcohol. It doesn’t have the same effect as the alcohol you drink. It is a water-soluble, colorless or white crystalline solid.

Xylitol is relatively harmless to humans. In fact, it may have its own set of benefits. It’s primarily used to make food products taste sweet, like sugar. It’s also used in many hair and skincare products, supplements and medications for its ability to retain moisture and bind fibres.

For dogs and cats, however, consuming xylitol is extremely toxic and often fatal. 

Since many dogs (and some cats) will eat just about anything, it’s important to know where the dangers are hiding, and what to do if your pet gets his chompers on something that contains xylitol.

Which products contain xylitol?

Similar in taste to sugar, xylitol contains 40% fewer calories, making it a popular ingredient in sugar-free foods. Some foods that may contain xylitol are:

  • Peanut butter
  • Jam
  • Ice cream
  • Greek yogurt
  • Honey
  • Mints
  • Cookies, cakes and other baked goods
  • Chocolate
  • Flavoured water
  • Condiments
  • Protein powder
  • Protein bars
  • Meal replacement mixes
  • Electrolyte drink mixes
  • Pudding
  • Gum
  • Pie filling
  • Syrups

Xylitol also has antibacterial properties, making it useful in skincare and dental products. 

Xylitol is a common ingredient in many products you may find in your bathroom, such as:

  • Lip balm
  • Shaving cream
  • Shampoo
  • Creams and lotions
  • Essential oil products
  • Deodorant
  • Facial moisturizer
  • Foundation
  • Facial cleansers and scrubs
  • Toner
  • Makeup remover
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash

Xylitol is used in many types of medications and nutritional supplements:

  • Various vitamin and mineral tablets
  • Supplements, such as melatonin, omega-3 and omega-6
  • Liquid medications
  • Sublingual medications (dissolvable under the tongue)
  • Enemas
  • Stool softeners
  • Cough drops
  • Nasal sprays
  • Antacids
  • Chewable / gummy vitamins and supplements

Xylitol is being used in a growing number of products as a replacement for sugar. And because it may also increase collagen production, scientists continue to use it in new products like anti-aging and wound-healing, as well as antibiotics.

Since xylitol is found in so many household products, our pets are at high risk of accidentally consuming this dangerous toxin

It’s crucial that we, as pet parents, read the ingredients on all products we have in the home. It’s also worth noting that manufacturers are not required to disclose when and if they begin using xylitol in their products. Always do a spot check, even on your everyday products, to make sure they haven’t added xylitol into the mix since the last time you shopped. 

Watch out for ingredients that may list xylitol or sugar alcohol. Sometimes you’ll find it listed under ‘supplement facts,’ ‘inactive ingredients’ or ‘other ingredients.’

How much xylitol is dangerous?

It doesn’t take much to do damage.

A very small amount of xylitol can cause insulin to spike rapidly, quickly leading to dangerously low blood sugar. That’s called hypoglycemia. Xylitol can also lead to seizures, liver failure, coma and death.

Hypoglycemia typically occurs after consuming 0.1g per kg of body weight.

Liver cell death typically occurs after consuming 0.5g per kg of body weight.

One piece of gum can contain 0.22-1.0g of xylitol. To a 4.5 kg (10 lbs) dog, one piece of gum could be toxic. 

The more xylitol your pet consumes, the more severe the situation. Unfortunately, the amount of xylitol is often omitted from product packaging. If you suspect your pet has consumed something that contains any amount of xylitol, consider it a medical emergency.

What are the signs of xylitol poisoning?

Since the toxic effects of xylitol can set in very quickly (15-30 minutes after consuming the toxin), it’s critical that you spot the signs and act fast to save your pet’s life. 

These are signs of xylitol poisoning:

  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated or wobbly walking
  • Involuntary shaking
  • Seizures

If you see any of these signs, call your vet immediately. The faster you act, the better chance your pet has for a successful recovery.

What should I do if my pet consumes xylitol?

What to do if your cat consumes xylitol

If your cat has eaten something poisonous, call your vet immediately. You may be instructed to take your cat to an emergency clinic right away. If possible (using hands-free technology if you’re all alone -- road safety first!), call the clinic while you’re en route. This can speed up the intake process when you arrive. 

Do not induce vomiting. Seek emergency medical help.

What to do if your dog consumes xylitol

If you find your dog eating something that contains xylitol, call your vet or an animal poison control centre immediately. 

ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435

Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 213-6680

Animal Poison Control Center: (855) 764-7661

You may be advised to induce vomiting with 3% hydrogen peroxide. 

BEWARE: sometimes vomiting may do more harm than good. Only induce vomiting if you have been advised to do so by a veterinarian or poison control centre professional. 

Do not induce vomiting if your dog:

  • is already vomiting
  • has consumed corrosive chemicals, petroleum products, drugs or sharp objects
  • is not showing any signs of toxicity
  • is having seizures or is hyperactive
  • is comatose
  • has difficulty swallowing
  • is extremely lethargic
  • has recently had abdominal surgery
  • has an enlarged esophagus
  • has an unusual airway or esophagus 
  • is brachycephalic (English bulldogs, pugs, shih-tzus and pekingese). These breeds could wind up inhaling their vomit, causing them to aspirate (breathe into the lungs) or choke (block the airway).

The only safe non-veterinary substance used to induce vomiting in dogs is 3% hydrogen peroxide. Anything else may cause your dog to vomit blood or vomit uncontrollably.

Inducing vomiting can be scary. If you are instructed to do so by a veterinarian or poison control centre professional, here’s what to expect:

  1. Your dog is more likely to vomit if he has food in his stomach. If he hasn’t eaten within the last two hours, feed him something small.
  2. Measure the suggested dose of 3% hydrogen peroxide.
  3. Squirt the proper dose of hydrogen peroxide from the side to the back of his mouth using a plastic syringe (no needle) or a turkey baster. 
  4. If your dog does not vomit within 15 minutes, you may be advised to give him another dose.
  5. Do not leave your dog unattended during this process. 
  6. When your dog does vomit, do not let him eat it. Instead, collect a sample and take it to the vet for further inspection. 

Pay attention to possible signs of complications:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Blood in vomit or stool

If any of these issues arise, seek immediate medical attention. 

How will my vet diagnose xylitol poisoning?

Since xylitol poisoning is so dangerous, and because it can progress so quickly, your vet may begin treatment right away without waiting for an official diagnosis. If you suspect your pet has consumed a product containing xylitol, that’s all the proof your vet needs to begin treatment. 

How will my vet treat xylitol poisoning?

Treatment for xylitol poisoning may start with IV fluids to keep your pet hydrated. Your vet may take a blood sample to test for hypoglycemia, and he may induce vomiting to prevent more xylitol from being absorbed into your pet’s bloodstream. 

Your pet may be given a liver protectant to help prevent liver failure. And he may also give your pet electrolytes, which are necessary for nerve and muscle function. Electrolytes are often depleted when xylitol is consumed.

While elevated liver enzymes are often detectable 8 to 12 hours after ingestion, signs of liver damage may not appear until 24 to 48 hours after consuming xylitol. Your vet will likely want to monitor your dog for a day or two to make sure no permanent damage has been done.

How can I prevent xylitol poisoning?

Pets can be very determined (and very resourceful!) when curiosity gets the best of them. Check the list of ingredients in the products and food items you keep at home. Make sure you keep anything containing xylitol or sugar alcohol up and out of reach.

If someone in your household is diabetic, or if you’re simply baking sugar-free treats, make sure your sweeteners are safely up and out of harm’s way. Best to keep Fluffy and Fido out of the kitchen entirely, just in case you drop dangerous ingredients on the floor. 

And don’t forget to tell visitors not to feed your pets any human food, no matter how much they beg. 

Keep a pet first-aid kit that contains 3% hydrogen peroxide and a needleless syringe, just in case your vet tells you to induce vomiting after xylitol poisoning.

Make sure your pet’s toothpaste is pet-safe. The toothpaste you use may contain xylitol and fluoride, which is also toxic to pets. 

Keep purses, backpacks and other bags up off the floor. We all have some type of gum, mints or lip balm in our bags, all of which are dangerous to pets. In fact, it’s safest to hang up your bags on a wall or door hook, or lock them up behind closed closet doors.

We all want to keep our pets safe and healthy. Take the time to safely secure potentially toxic products. 

Most importantly, be prepared. Have an easily accessible plan on hand so you know what to do in case of accidental poisoning. Keep emergency veterinarian and poison control phone numbers in your phone and on the fridge, or somewhere you can get to them quickly and easily.

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