Xylitol is a low-calorie sugar substitute that’s helped diabetics and weight loss seekers get their sugar fix––in spite of dietary restrictions. And, just like chocolate and grapes, it’s natural, further disproving the claim that “natural is always safe.”
That’s because Xylitol, a sugar compound sourced from the Birch tree, has been recently discovered to be 100 percent lethal to dogs. In many cases, the quantity of Xylitol-containing food was small––as in a box of sugar-free Tic-Tacs (really), a Jell-O sugar free pudding snack or one sugar-free cupcake.
With Xylitol poisoning the most obvious sign is seizuring...as your dog's blood sugar levels plummet. Should she survive this phase, liver toxicity and clotting problems often result.
As if that wasn't enough to strike fear into the heart of any dog lover, the additional danger in Xylitol is three-fold:
- Only small quantities are needed to do serious damage
- Xylitol is found in an increasing number of consumer products and foodstuffs (kid’s vitamins, mints, gums, toothpaste, sugar-free baked goods, etc.)
- Most dog owners don’t yet know about it
As a veterinarian, the latter hazard seems most pressing to me. After all, if you have no idea that Starbucks mints contain Xylitol, you won’t be so careful about where you leave your purse. If you don’t know that a sugar-free cupcake contains it, you might not think twice about throwing a stale one your dogs’ way––or leaving the box on the counter.
Not until your dog starts seizuring, as her blood sugar drops, will you begin to wonder what could have led to her physiological free-fall.
This is really scary stuff. More so because many veterinarians are still in the dark about Xylitol, its effects and its prevalence. A seizuring dog? Could be from anything. Unless you’re asked about specific food poisons, you might not think to check if your gum is still in your pocket. You might have forgotten about the pastry, stressed out as you now are.
Which begs the question: Should these products be labeled “unsafe for canine consumption”?
Though I’d like that to be the case, it’s not happening anytime soon. After all, chocolates and grapes don’t host warning labels. Because ultimately, it’s up to YOU to know better. And now you do.
Spread the word among your dog-loving friends. Read your labels. Don’t buy these products unless you truly need them in your diet (until they switch to another sweetener choice). Inform your family. And, if you choose to use these products, be very careful where you leave them.
Finally, feel free to lobby your local Starbucks to substitute Xylitol for safer sweeteners in their mints and gums. Tell Flintstone’s their vitamins need not contain it. Send out emails to companies who use Xylitol in their product lines. For those of you willing to get in on the act and save a few dogs’ lives, here’s a list of the consumer products that currently contain Xylitol. Make YOUR voice heard.
Oh, and don't forget to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) the topics you’d most like to hear about––medical, money, ethical or otherwise––and prepare yourself for my opinionated answers.
Dr. Patty Khuly