By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that was first discovered in the late 19th century and first was used as a safer alternative to sugar for diabetic patients.
In the 1970s its benefits in oral health was discovered and since then it has been used to sweeten dental products such as toothpaste and mouthwashes, in addition to sugar-free gum and candy. It tastes and looks like sugar and in people has very little side effects. In dogs, however, xylitol can be very dangerous, and even fatal. Just one or two sticks of sugar free gum could cause severe pet health problems in even a 20 pound dog.
In dogs, xylitol encourages the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin, in turn, moves glucose (sugar) into the cells, causing the glucose levels in the bloodstream to drop. The result can be severe hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Hypogylcemia can cause tremors, weakness, collapse, seizures and even death. High doses of Xylitol can also damage the liver causing necrosis and can be fatal.
If you suspect your dog has ingested sugar-free gum or other product containing xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately. While there is no antidote or reversal for this toxicity, vomiting, which can remove the toxin from the stomach, can be encouraged if caught soon enough. Your veterinarian will want to run a blood panel to determine if your dog is hypoglycemic or having indications that the liver has been affected.
Treatment typically involves administering dextrose, or sugar, through an IV catheter, and intensive supportive care and close monitoring over several days. The effects of Xylitol generally wear off in several days. If liver damage has occurred, additional treatment is likely necessary and may be quite involved. Pet insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, often cover toxicity.
Pet health insurance can help with some of the costs accrued from accidental toxicities.