If you have a pet around the house, you may feed them the same things you eat. But the ingredients of some human food could possibly kill man's best friend, including a 90-cent packet of sugar-free gum.
That’s because it contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in a number of foods you may have around the house. Scientific studies have found this natural sweetener to have numerous health benefits for humans, but for dogs, ingestion can be dangerous or even lethal.
The ASPCA’s Poison Control Center reports that in 2011 it took in approximately 3,000 xylitol-related calls from pet owners in crisis.
“Xylitol is deadly and can kill quickly,” says Dr. Luke Rump, a veterinarian at Central Veterinary Emergency Services at Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado in Englewood. “I worry that not enough pet owners know that sugarless gum, mints, sugar-free candies and baked goods contain this dangerous ingredient.” Brands with products containing xylitol include Trident, Ice Breakers, Spry, Peelu, Altoids, Orbit, and Tom’s of Maine.
Dr. Rump is familiar with a recent case of a Denver Metro area dog named Gracie. The 8-year-old spaniel was having bleeding, seizures and a high fever after eating a stick of gum out of a pack her owner left on her bedroom nightstand. Ultimately, Gracie’s liver failed and she had to be euthanized.
In dogs, xylitol is absorbed extremely quickly. The immediate result is that it fools the pancreas into releasing a huge spike of insulin, which is quickly followed by a sudden and dramatic drop in blood sugar (acute hypoglycemia) since there isn't really any surplus sugar for the insulin to work on. The next problem, which isn't quite as well understood, is severe (and potentially fatal) liver toxicity and failure, for which there is no clear evidence of causation. Either way, it isn't good. It doesn't take a whole lot of xylitol to be a toxic dose, and the effects are so rapid that the window of opportunity to treat the dog is extremely small. Clinical signs of hypoglycemia can appear within 30 minutes of ingestion.
Dr. Rump says the tragedy for pet owners is that this is a totally preventable scenario and he urges everyone reading this to share it with fellow pet owners.
Here is a list of other symptoms to look for that may indicate your dog has xylitol poisoning:
- Weakness and lethargy
- Uncoordinated movements
- Pale gums (usually after the dog starts going into shock)
- Body tremors
- Arrhythmia or irregular heart rate
Your veterinarian will likely induce vomiting if the ingestion is recent. Other treatments can include administration of fluids by IV and glucose supplementation based on lab tests to monitor blood glucose levels, plus other supportive measures to maintain proper liver function. The outcome is dependent on the amount of xylitol ingested relative to the size of the animal and the time lapse between ingestion and treatment. The more immediate the treatment, the better.