All pet owners should be aware that there are more food risks in their homes in addition to the commonly known chocolate danger. With the increased use of artificial sweeteners in our everyday diet, there is now a hidden danger in almost every home. One of the most ubiquitous artificial sweeteners used currently is called xylitol. It is used to flavor many common and popular products such as chewing gum and candy, baked goods including muffins and pastry, and some pre-made baking mixes. In some cases it is a challenge to determine if a food contains the sweetener, not every product is distinctly labeled.
The problem xylitol causes is sudden hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). A thirteen pound dog could actually show signs soon after ingesting only two pieces of chewing gum. The signs would be a quiet, almost sleeping dog, with inability to stand or walk. It is possible to reverse this phase of the poisoning but the worst outcome is a liver toxicity that develops with almost no external signs. Without hospitalization and treatment, many dogs do not survive. Unfortunately, many owners do not even make the connection to the exposure in time to help their pet.
There is another “hidden” way that this risk comes into an owner’s home. Several over the counter medications that previously have been recommended by veterinarians in certain situations now contain the sweetener as well. For example, suspensions (liquid forms) of products such Benedryl or cough suppressants are commonly used at home with guidance from a family’s vet. In many cases these medications were safe and easy to give especially to small dogs where dosing with tablets or pills was a challenge. Using these formulations is no longer an option.
Xylitol poisoning is almost always accidental and unintentional. The safest approach is to simply avoid anything that contains artificial flavoring. Of course, that is not so easy regarding our (human) diets, but still straightforward when considering what to offer a pet. Take a moment to go through your home and note which items may contain this sweetener, you might be surprised. Next, consult some credible sources such as your veterinary clinic staff and the ASPCA poison website for more information on other unsuspicious forms of toxicity in your home such as grapes or raisins!!
Written by Dr. Roberta Riedi, Resident Veterinarian at Globe University Green Bay