Sugar-free Sweets Can Be Toxic To Dogs

By now, most dog owners know that chocolate is toxic to dogs. However, there are other hazards. According to the ASPCA's (American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals) Poison Control Center, more dogs than ever are being poisoned by products containing Xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener derived from natural sources.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in candy and chewing gum. It is also found in some pharmaceuticals and oral health products such as chewable vitamins and throat lozenges. It can also be used in home baking.

While Xylitol is safe for humans, it can be harmful to dogs. When ingested by dogs it can cause a dangerous surge of insulin. (In as little as 15 minutes, the blood sugar of a dog that has eaten gum containing Xylitol may register a marked drop in blood sugar.) Just three grams of Xylitol can kill a 65-pound dog.

A dog that has eaten an item containing Xylitol can be rapidly hit by a dangerous drop in blood sugar that causes weakness, lethargy, ataxia (uncoordinated movements), depression, collapse, and seizures. Those symptoms can develop within 30 minutes, and a dog so afflicted will need immediate veterinary treatment to survive. Without help, irreversible brain trauma occurs and the patient dies.

Xylitol also appears to cause severe liver damage in dogs within 24 hours. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, (1 Oct. 2006) of eight dogs who had ingested Xylitol, five died of liver failure, and an additional three canine deaths that occurred after the study was completed were also determined to stem from that cause.

If you think your dog has consumed sugar-free gum or any other product containing Xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately. Most likely you will be instructed to bring your pet in to have vomiting induced and IV fluids started, but if you live more than an hour away from a vet, you may have to induce vomiting at home.

Veterinary treatment generally involves 24-hour hospitalization and infusion with intravenous fluids containing glucose. Your dog's blood sugar will be monitored every few hours and the dose of glucose being fed to him by IV adjusted as needed. If liver values are normal after 24 hours, your dog will be sent home.

As to how to prevent such poisonings, recognize that dogs are long on sweet tooth and short on judgment and act accordingly. Do not leave tasty items lying around. Put sugar-free gums and candies where dogs can't get at them. Keep chewable vitamins out of the way too. If you bake with Xylitol, store the resultant goodies well out of your pets' reach and do not hand-feed them bits of Xylitol-laced muffin as a treat no matter how much they beg.