Artificial sweetener hits a sour note with dogs

Columnist’s note: There has been growing concern recently about the toxic effect the artificial sweetener xylitol can have on dogs. Because of this upswing in awareness – because xylitol is popping up as an ingredient so frequently in so many foods, I wanted to review the subject again.

“Sugar-free” gum, peanut butter, candies, breath mints, baked goods, pudding snacks, cough syrup, children’s chewable or gummy vitamins and supplements, mouthwash, and toothpaste. They all have one thing in common, xylitol, a sugar substitute that most humans can tolerate but that can be fatal to your dog.

According to vcahospitals.com, xylitol is also showing up in over-the-counter nasal sprays, laxatives, digestive aids, allergy medicines and prescription human medications, especially those formulated as disintegrating drug tablets (sleep aids, pain relievers, antipsychotics, etc.) or liquids.

This means that if you have nosy dogs (like we do) that like to get into things they shouldn’t then you should be all the more cautious having products around that may contain xylitol.

Humans like xylitol because it contains only about two thirds of the calories of sugar but tastes very similar.

Dogs can’t tell the difference until they’ve ingested this toxic ingredient. Even small doses (a pack of gum, for example) can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or even death in dogs.

Why is xylitol toxic to dogs?

In both humans and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. Xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas in humans. However, when non-primate species, such as dogs, eat something containing xylitol it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This rapid release of insulin causes a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an effect that occurs within 10-60 minutes of eating the xylitol. Untreated, this hypoglycemia can be life-threatening, according to vcahospitals.com.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning develop rapidly, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption. Signs of hypoglycemia may include any or all of the following: vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination or difficulty walking or standing, depression or lethargy, tremors, seizures or coma.

In severe cases, the dog may develop seizures or liver failure. Dogs that develop liver failure from xylitol poisoning often show signs of hypoglycemia.

If you suspect that your pet has eaten a xylitol-containing product, immediately contact your veterinarian. Do not induce vomiting or give anything orally to your dog unless specifically directed to do so by your veterinarian. It is important to get treatment for your dog as quickly as possible. As some dogs may already be hypoglycemic, inducing vomiting can make them worse.

Sometimes we have canine Houdinis that can get on to counter tops or in cupboards without much effort. The best advice is to keep all xylitol containing products out of Fido’s reach.

Amy is the author “Have Dog Will Blog,” editor of the Central PA Pets magazine, and director of the Central PA Pet Expo. She can be contacted at ahanna@altoonamirror

.com or by mail: Paws and Reflect, c/o Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode, Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.


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