Although xylitol is harmless to humans, it affects dogs very differently.
Have you heard of Xylitol? It is an artificial sweetener that is showing up in more and more foods. It is most often found in sugar-free gum, sugar-free candy, breath mints, chewable vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste, and some baked goods, but it is beginning to show up in a favorite dog treat: peanut butter.
Now the FDA is warning consumers that the common sweetener can be toxic to dogs if ingested.
Over the past several years, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has received increasing reports of dogs being poisoned by xylitol, and unfortunately, some poisonings resulted in death. According to CBC News, the number of xylitol-related calls to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control center rose from 82 in 2004 to more than 3,700 in 2014.
Although xylitol is harmless to humans, it affects dogs very differently. Because it tastes sweet but doesn’t contain any sugar, when a dog’s pancreas sees xylitol in its system, it mistakes it for real sugar and releases a torrent of insulin. This insulin causes a dangerous drop in the dog’s blood sugar levels, leading to a series of life-threatening symptoms including vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination, collapse, and seizures.
"In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas," the FDA statement said. "However, it's different in canines: When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas.”
If you think your dog has ingested xylitol, take him or her to your vet or emergency hospital immediately. Side effects can take up to 12 to 24 hours to appear, so your dog may have to be monitored during that time.
The FDA recommends these tips to keep your dog, or dogs, safe: keep products that contain xylitol well out of your dog’s reach, only use pet toothpaste, and if you give your dog nut butter as a treat, check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol.
"You just have to be really careful because dogs are nosy little creatures and they are hungry all the time. I know my dogs are, and they are just looking for a treat. So you have to really watch them,” Dr. Ashley Gallagher of the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C. told CBS News.
Currently the toxicity of xylitol in cats has not been documented. But since cats do not have a taste for sweets, they likely won’t ever ingest xylitol.