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This Common Sweetener Is Toxic To Dogs
The Good News Is:
Xylitol, a commonly used artificial sweetener, is as sweet as sucrose but has only two-thirds the calories of sugars. In humans it doesn’t cause significant amounts of insulin to be released, so it makes a good substitute for sugar.
That’s especially attractive to folks on a low-carb diet or who are otherwise concerned about the sugar content of their food.
And since xylitol doesn’t require insulin in order to be absorbed by cells, it can be used as an energy source for diabetics, which can be taken by mouth or intravenously.
Although it can be synthesized, it occurs naturally in edible plants such as berries, lettuce, and mushrooms.
In addition to sugar-free gum, xylitol is a common ingredient in mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, and baked goods.
It’s available as a powdered or granulated ingredient for those baked goods and as a sweetener for cereals and beverages.
It’s a popular sugar substitute for dental products, too, such as sugar-free gum and toothpaste, because it prevents oral bacteria from producing the acids that damage the surface of our teeth.
And how about this interesting note: the dental benefits of xylitol accrue to dogs as well, in fact, there are dental health products for dogs that contain the substance. These liquids or powders are added to the dog’s drinking water. The concentration of xylitol in these products is so low, though, that there’s no problems unless you disregard mixing instructions and cause an overdose.
It even inhibits the growth of certain other bacteria which makes it useful in preventing bacterial ear infections in children.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more wonderful, it turns out that it has the potential to be environmentally friendly, too!
I learned that they're working on producing xylitol from corn cobs left over from the production of ethanol.
But The Bad News Is:
It’s toxic to dogs. The main danger is a sudden drop in the animal’s blood sugar level (back on the block we just called it hypoglycemia).
When that occurs, the dog will usually vomit first, then display an array of other symptoms. And they’ll develop rapidly.
He may act like he’s in a stupor, wobble about, suffer seizures, collapse, suffer brain damage, even die.
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In dogs, xylitol is almost completely absorbed, and pretty quickly, too. It usually only takes from half an hour to an hour to reach its peak levels, although there have been cases of sugar-free gum ingestion where it has taken as long as 12 hours to become life-threatening.
But Wait...There's More
Xylitol was big during WWII because sucrose was hard to come by, but after the war domestic production dropped off quite a bit. It has always been popular in Europe, but the U.S. didn’t renew its love affair with it until the 1970s.
Over the years, it gained in popularity as its other benefits became known. But beginning in 2003 the American Society for the Prevention of Crueltly to Animals (ASPCA), through its Animal Poison Control Center (APPC), first saw hepatic necrosis (liver failure) in dogs that had ingested xylitol.
Between 2003 and 2006 the ASPCA documented eight cases and five of those eight either died or were euthanized because of liver failure.
Interestingly enough, six of the dogs didn’t appear to develop hypoglycemia before the liver failure occurred. Another consequence of xylitol ingestion in dogs is a condition known as coagulopathy, or the inability of blood to clot.
Liver failure, by the way, can also be caused by such things as ingestion of acetaminophen, aflatoxins (a mold that can affect corn and other grains), certain mushrooms, blue-green algae, iron, and sago palms as well as by contracting certain infectious diseases.
Symptoms of liver failure in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), jaundice and abnormalities picked up by lab work. As is often the case, these symptoms are present in other conditions, too.
Crunching The Numbers
Xylitol is estimated to be 100 times more toxic than chocolate to dogs. Liver failure can result when your dog ingests 0.5g/kg or more of the stuff. To put things into perspective:
- A single piece of sugar-free gum can contain between 0.3g and 1g of xylitol.
- The powdered form of xylitol used in baking has 190g of Xylitol per cup.
- If a recipe required one cup for two dozens cupcakes, just 2 cupcakes would be toxic to a 50 lb. dog.
Xylitol is used in many things we buy every day, so dog owners must be vigilant in order to prevent a life threatening situation. If you use sugar free products, it would be wise to learn what sugar substitutes they contain, or just choose ones that don’t contain xylitol. Those that do should be kept well out of the reach of dogs.