If you’re an average American, chances are you’re aware of the sugar substitute craze. You might even have sugar-free gum or sugar-free mints in your purse or in your car right now. It only contains about two-thirds of the calories that sugar contains, which makes it a popular substitute. It is also found in many oral-heath products, such as toothpaste, gum, and breath mints. It is known to reduce plaque and discourage cavities.
And chances are, that artificial sweetener is xylitol. Xylitol is one of the most commonly used sweeteners. Although xylitol is safe and even healthy for you, it is extremely toxic for your dog.
So, why is xylitol safe for you and deadly for your dog? In dogs, xylitol causes hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is also known as low blood sugar. This happens when the sweetener causes a release of insulin and because xylitol does not contain the extra calories of sugar, the rush of insulin only removes the real sugar from the body’s circulation. Thus, this causes a sudden plummet of blood sugar. Hypoglycemia
develops thirty to sixty minutes after ingestion. Your dog may start vomiting immediately and other symptoms include weakness and lethargy. These symptoms can quickly progress to difficulty walking, collapse, tremors, and seizures.
The second reaction to xylitol is hepatic necrosis
, or destruction of liver tissue. Although precisely how this happens is still unknown, it is known that the amount of xylitol that must be ingested for this reaction is much higher than hypoglycemia,
and symptoms generally take longer to show up.
If you think your dog has ingested xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately. You can also call the National Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 to speak with a veterinary toxicologist.(1) If treatment for xylitol poisoning is started before the symptoms fully develop, the prognosis is typically good. If your dog has developed hepatic necrosis
or liver toxicity, unfortunately, the prognosis is poor.
Prevention, as with many health issues, is extremely important. Check the ingredients on your personal products to see if they contain xylitol and keep these products safely out of your pet’s reach. Unfortunately, xylitol poisoning is becoming a more common problem due to the increase of xylitol being used in gums and candies.
There are other sugar alternatives, such as aspartame and sucralose that are all found to be safe for dogs, humans and rats.(2) Aspartame can cause mild digestive upset and can negatively influence blood sodium levels in dogs if a large volume is consumed.(3) If your dog eats a large amount of food or beverage sweetened with aspartame (such as Diet Coke or ‘sugar free’ yogurt or candy), contact your veterinarian. Also, many ‘sugar free’ foods and beverages contain multiple types of sweeteners within the same product, predisposing many pets to xylitol toxicity. Aspartame has been said to be toxic, some veterinary toxicologists have dismissed this as purely an internet myth.(4) However, from a holistic standpoint, Aspartame is unnatural and there is absolutely no reason to feed your dog any food containing Aspartame.
(1) ASPCA Animal Poison Control/ National Animal Poison Control Center. http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control
(2) Butchko, H., et al., 2002 April. Aspartame: Review of Safety.
Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 35(2 Pt 2):S1-93.
(3) Means, Charlotte. 2008. Is Aspartame Toxic to Dogs?
Veterinary Information Network Vet-to-Vet Toxicology Message Board.
(4) Gwaltney-Brant, S. 2012, August 12. Veterinary/Toxicology-related Internet Rumors.
Veterinary Information Network Clinical Rounds Transcript.
Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida. She has two cats and recently lost her 8 year-old Australian Shepard to liver cancer.