Xylitol is a sweetener used in gum, baked goods, peanut butter, and many products designed for people with diabetes due to its low glycemic index and low-calorie content. While it may be safe for humans to consume, it is toxic to dogs.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that’s as sweet as sugar but with a lower glycemic index and calorie content than sugar. It has humectant properties, which means it can help retain moisture, so it’s also used in many skin and hair products. In addition, its antibacterial properties can diminish skin issues and dental plaque, another reason why it is used in skincare and dental products.
Scientists are researching even more possible uses of xylitol including its potential to increase skin collagen production which may be important in anti-aging, its role in wound healing, and as an antibiotic.
Why is Xylitol Toxic to Dogs?
Xylitol can cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs (xylitol toxicity has not been documented in cats). Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is caused by insulin release stimulated by xylitol. This effect generally lasts 12-24 hours but can be a delayed reaction.
Liver failure is idiosyncratic (somewhat unusual) and while the mechanism of why it occurs in dogs isn’t fully understood, the thought is reactive oxygen species form and damage the liver.
What Are Some Products Containing Xylitol?
As mentioned above, xylitol can be found in products ranging from food to skin care. Some of the most common products include:
- Food products – peanut butter (some name brands include Go Nuts, Co.®, Nuts ‘N More®, and P28®), ice cream, cookies, pudding, pie filling, cake mixes, non-fat Greek yogurt, chocolate, sugar-free condiments, protein powders and bars, many low-calorie baked goods, and sugar-free honeys, syrups, jams and preserves
- Oral care products – toothpaste, mouthwash, breath sprays, breath mints, and gum
- Medication and supplement products – gummy vitamins, oral liquid medications (such as children’s Allegra Oral Suspension®), oral disintegrating medications (referred to as meltaway, like alprazolam), cough drops, antacids, nasal sprays, stool softeners
- Personal care products, like deodorant, shampoo, moisturizers and foundations, facial cleansers and scrubs, makeup remover, and lotions
How Do I Know if a Product Contains Xylitol?
The concentration of xylitol varies greatly between products and companies often do not share the exact amount of the artificial sweetener with consumers. Generally, it is listed on the ingredient label under “other ingredients,” “inactive ingredients,” or “supplement facts.” Some companies list xylitol as an ingredient while others list “sugar alcohols” which may include xylitol. Xylitol is also known by several other names, including wood sugar, birch sugar, and birch bark extract.
This variation in labeling and not knowing how much is in a product makes it very difficult to determine how much xylitol your dog has consumed if they ingest a product containing xylitol.
Given that we are seeing xylitol in so many products, be sure to always read package ingredient labels before giving your dog any food products.
What to Do if Your Dog Ingests Xylitol
If your dog ingests xylitol, contact your family veterinarian immediately. If you cannot reach them, call the Pet Poison Helpline, 855-764-7661 (an incident fee applies), or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435 (APCC) (a consultation fee applies). Be prepared to tell them how much your dog weighs, the exact product, and the time they ingested it.
If the ingestion is considered toxic, immediately go to the nearest MedVet or emergency veterinary hospital. A common recommendation after ingestion of xylitol is induction of vomiting, but you should speak with a veterinarian before doing so. Additional recommendations may include monitoring of liver values and blood sugar, and IV fluids with dextrose.