Xylitol is not only bad for dogs — it can be deadly. If your dog has consumed even a small amount of xylitol, it can lead to a life-threatening reaction that can result in permanent liver damage or liver failure. So, if you're asking "Is xylitol bad for dogs?" because your dog has already eaten some, you need to take emergency steps immediately.
Call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. You can also make an emergency visit to your doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) or to a 24-hour emergency animal hospital.
But, do not wait. The symptoms of xylitol poisoning can set in as quickly as 10 minutes to one hour after xylitol ingestion. Get your dog help immediately.
If your dog hasn't eaten xylitol, phew! Join us as we breathe a sigh of relief and then cover everything you need to know to avoid xylitol-related emergencies in the future.
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. It's often used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free and low-carb snacks.
Unlike artificial sweeteners used as sugar substitutes, xylitol occurs naturally. It even occurs in certain foods that are both safe and nutritious for dogs, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, oats, and corn.
Much like table sugar, or sucrose, xylitol is processed and extracted from the whole foods where it occurs naturally. So, although it is natural, it is not a whole food. While sucrose is typically extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, xylitol is typically extracted from corn or birch trees.
Where Is Xylitol Hiding?
Xylitol is available in the sugar aisle of the grocery store, where it's sometimes labeled "birch sugar." However, it's still a niche product. Unless you're a devoted low-carb baker, you probably don't have a bag of xylitol sitting around your house.
But, your cupboards may be full of processed foods that contain xylitol without your knowledge. Before you share any processed foods with your best friend — including peanut butter, which sometimes contains this deadly ingredient — make sure to carefully read the ingredients label.
Dog owners need to be especially careful of low-carb, low-sugar, and sugar-free products, and of dental hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash. (Xylitol helps prevent plaque and tartar buildup in people, so it's a common ingredient in dental products.)
Some of the most common products that contain xylitol include:
- Sugar-free chewing gum
- Breath mints
- Baked goods
- Ice cream
- Peanut butter
- Chewable supplements
- Gummy vitamins
- Nasal sprays
- Over-the-counter and prescription medications
How to Prevent Xylitol Poisoning in Your Home
If you use xylitol or birch sugar in your home baking, make sure it's clearly labeled. Then, keep it in a secure location, out of reach of your pets, like a sealed container inside a high cupboard.
Pet owners who bake can also make a simple switch. Other sugar alcohols, including erythritol, mannitol, and sorbitol, are low carb and have a low glycemic index like xylitol, but they're not toxic to dogs. Erythritol, in particular, is easy to find in grocery stores and will perform similarly to xylitol in recipes.
If you're determined, you may be able to create an entirely xylitol-free home. Read labels before you purchase processed food, candy, gum, toothpaste, or medicines, and avoid the options that contain xylitol.
If this is too challenging (or if some of your favorite products contain xylitol), choose an out-of-reach space, like a high cupboard, to store your xylitol-containing products. And make sure toothpaste is always put away in a drawer, not left on the counter.
Educate anyone else in your household, including roommates, kids, and other family members, about the dangers of xylitol for dogs. Make sure they know which products contain xylitol and where to put those products so the dog can't reach them.
Let young children know that they should never give a piece of gum or candy to the dog. And when it's time to brush your dog's teeth, make sure you use a toothpaste that's specially formulated for dogs — never use a human toothpaste.
How to Recognize the Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs
If you're concerned that your dog has eaten something they shouldn't have, call your vet or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately.
The symptoms of xylitol toxicity in dogs look similar to the symptoms of other types of poisoning, including grape toxicity and chocolate toxicity, and the treatment will also be similar. It's more important to recognize when your dog is suffering from a potential poisoning than it is to identify what caused it.
The symptoms of poisoning include:
- Loss of coordination
If you notice any of these symptoms, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, or make an emergency visit to your veterinarian's office or to a 24-hour emergency animal hospital.
What to Expect From Xylitol Toxicity Treatment
The first step in treating poisoning in dogs will be to try to induce vomiting. Your vet will be able to do this in their office, or the Animal Poison Control Center may be able to talk you through this process at home and help you identify if your dog needs further veterinary care.
In cases of xylitol poisoning, if you induce vomiting right away, it may stop the xylitol from entering your dog's blood stream, which can prevent the potentially deadly effects of xylitol.
Once the xylitol enters your dog's blood stream, your dog's pancreas begins to release insulin. This release of insulin can cause your dog's blood sugar levels to drop, causing hypoglycemia. If your dog has low blood sugar for a sustained period of time, it can be life threatening.
Xylitol can also lead to liver failure, though veterinarians aren't sure why or how this happens. If your vet is concerned that inducing vomiting hasn't fully prevented the effects of xylitol poisoning, they can further treat your dog with IV fluids that contain a dextrose supplement to help reverse the effects of hypoglycemia and with drugs to protect your dog's liver.
While there is no cure for xylitol poisoning, these treatments often help prevent the most serious effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs.
So, Is Xylitol Bad for Dogs?
Xylitol is very bad for dogs. It's one of those common household items that can lead to serious illness and death if your dog eats it. But unlike other foods that are toxic to dogs — like grapes and chocolate — pet owners don't always realize that they have xylitol in their home.
Check the labels on any processed foods, medicines, supplements, and dental care products in your home to see if they contain xylitol. If they do, keep them out of reach of your furry friend by placing them in closed drawers or high cupboards.
Be especially careful of sugar-free, low-sugar, or low-carb peanut butter, baked goods, gum, candy, breath mints, and other sweets, and never brush your dog's teeth with a human toothpaste. Xylitol is becoming a more common food additive every year, so always read labels to keep your pet safe.For more information on your pet's health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.