It’s difficult to believe that something as seemingly innocuous as a stick of sugarless chewing gum could be fatal to your dog if ingested. However, if the gum contains xylitol, it could very well be toxic and potentially lethal.
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute which is used in many sugar-free products, including:
- chewing gums
- foods, such as pudding, gelatin and sugarless candy
- oral rinses
- over-the-counter supplements, such as multivitamins and other products
What Are the Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning?
Ingested in toxic doses, xylitol can cause a decline in blood glucose levels within 10-15 minutes of the exposure. This condition is known as hypoglycemia and can, by itself, be fatal if not treated quickly enough. However, xylitol can also cause damage to the liver resulting in liver failure within a few days after the ingestion.
Symptoms of xylitol toxicity include:
- jaundice (yellow coloration of the gums and skin)
- black, tarry feces
Treatment of Xylitol Toxicity
If you suspect or know that your dog has ingested xylitol or a product containing xylitol, seek veterinary care immediately.
If your dog is still alert and the ingestion has been very recent, your veterinarian may try to induce vomiting. Your dog’s blood glucose levels will need to be monitored closely as will the liver values.
Your dog will likely need to be admitted to the veterinary hospital. Supportive treatment with intravenous fluids may be necessary. If the blood glucose levels fall, glucose can be added to the fluids. Drugs which help protect the liver such as S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and silybin will likely be recommended also.
What About Canine Oral Rinses and Other Dental Products Containing Xylitol?
There are a number of dental care products designed for dogs that do contain small amounts of xylitol. Because the quantity of xylitol is very small, these products are safe for your dog as long as they are used as directed. Be certain to follow all label instructions carefully. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian for advice about the suitability of these products for your dog.
How Can I Protect My Dog From Xylitol Poisoning?
Keep all products which contain xylitol out of your dog’s reach. Be careful about leaving mints and chewing gum in handbags or pockets where they may be accessible to your dog.
Is Xylitol Dangerous to Cats?
Xylitol does not appear to be dangerous to cats. Apparently, cats metabolize the substance differently than dogs.