Xylitol: The Sweetener That Is Not So Sweet for Pets

September 20, 2017

xylitol and chewing gum

Most pet owners are aware that while certain foods may be safe for you, they are not always safe for your pet. One common ingredient found in foods today that can be a serious concern if ingested by pets is xylitol, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) wants you to have all the facts about this potentially harmful ingredient.

Xylitol is sweetener that is most commonly found in food products but can be found in other consumer goods as well.  While xylitol consumption can be dangerous for your dog, it does not cause serious problems in cats or ferrets. 

Why is xylitol so serious for dogs?

In dogs, xylitol causes low blood sugar and liver injury. Signs of low blood sugar include weakness, unsteadiness, shaking and (if it goes untreated) seizures. While low blood sugar can occur very quickly—as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion—it can take up to 12 hours for symptoms to appear after ingestion.

Signs of liver injury may include a decrease in appetite, lethargy, yellowing of the skin as well as vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms indicating liver injury in your dog may not be seen for two or three days after ingestion. 

Where can you find xylitol hiding?

Unfortunately xylitol can be found in many commonly purchased goods. While gum or food items are the most common, you can also find the ingredient in:

  • Medications
  • Vitamins
  • Personal items such as baby wipes, diapers, sunscreen, makeup, and lip balm
  • Dental health products such as toothpaste, dental floss, breath fresheners, mouth wash and  mints 

Some food items that may contain xylitol include:

  • Drink powder
  • Pudding
  • Candy
  • Chocolate
  • Baked items
  • Pancake syrup
  • Ketchup and barbecue sauce. 

How do you keep your pet safe?

If your pet got into something,  first check the ingredient label on the product. If the ingested item contains xylitol and you notice any abnormal behavior from your pet, it is best to go to your local veterinary clinic immediately. A veterinarian will likely first check your dog’s blood sugar and liver enzymes to see if they are abnormal. If your dog does have low blood sugar, your vet may give a source of sugar (dextrose) IV to bring their sugar levels back up to avoid any serious complications. 

If your pet got into something but is still acting normal, you should still call APCC so they can determine if the amount of xylitol ingested is dangerous to your pet’s health. The amount of xylitol found in different products—even different flavors of gum—can vary widely, so having information about the item ingested, how much was ingested and knowing your pet’s weight is important.  

To help keep your pets safe, follow these tips:

  • When purchasing a new item, check the ingredient list for xylitol.  If you have a pet that is prone to getting into things or a mischievous new puppy, it may be best to avoid bringing that particular item into your home. If you do bring home products containing xylitol, make sure to keep them in a safe place out of paws’ reach.
  • Make sure to keep items like purses or backpacks off the floor so that there is less opportunity for a nosy pet to find out what’s inside.
  • When taking medications, consider doing so in a room with a door so you can keep your pets out in case something drops. That way you can pick up the dropped medication before your pet can.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any poisonous substances, contact your veterinarian or call Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 888-426-4435 immediately.