Dog owners cautioned about Xylitol sweetener
Accidental ingestion can kill your pet
November 5, 2015
Xylitol, a sugar substitute also found in gummy vitamins and other products, is 100 times as harmful to dogs as milk chocolate, experts say.
A woman from Charlotte, North Carolina, had no idea that a sweetener in sugarless chewing gum could nearly kill her family's dog. She came home to find that the labradoodle [a cross between a Labrador retriever and the standard, miniature or toy poodle] had knocked her son's "Ice Breakers" gum off the counter and ingested about 20 pieces. The dog began vomiting and later became lethargic. A local animal hospital diagnosed liver failure.
"They told me to bring my kids in to say goodbye to her," said [the woman] "We all held her and cried." 3 blood-plasma transfusions later, the dog pulled through. Bills for the incident late last year  came to more than USD 5000.
The culprit: xylitol, a sugar substitute increasingly used by food manufacturers. It has been deemed safe for humans but is extremely harmful to dogs -- roughly 100 times as toxic as milk chocolate, a more widely known hazard, experts say. The sweetener is causing a surge in accidental dog poisonings, some fatal, according to animal poison-control centers.
"We've seen a dramatic increase" in xylitol calls, said Dr Ahna Brutlag, senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline. Her center has had 2800 calls about known or suspected xylitol ingestion so far this year , up from 300 in 2009. Dr Brutlag said xylitol has become one of the most dangerous food-related poisons her staff deals with. "There are still a lot of dog owners who have never heard of xylitol, nor do they understand that something this benign, an ordinary sweetener, could be toxic to pets."
There are no comprehensive data on how many pets die from eating xylitol. Some affected pet owners are calling for warning labels on products containing xylitol, and an Oregon pet-safety group is organizing online petitions seeking such moves. But some pet-poisoning experts think that isn't realistic, and say educating dog owners is the best way to tackle the issue. Manufacturers say xylitol-containing products are properly labeled and are meant for human consumption.
Besides gum, xylitol is used by manufacturers in products including mints, gummy vitamins, toothpaste, specialty peanut butter, and melatonin sleep aids -- in part because it has about 2/3 the calories of sugar and is safer than sugar for diabetics. Some gum makers cite studies showing dental-health benefits.
A type of sugar alcohol extracted from plants, xylitol is well-tolerated by humans, but in dogs causes a sudden release of insulin, resulting in low blood sugar and potentially leading to seizures and brain damage. It also can cause liver failure. Although many cases involve gum, veterinarians say some of the most serious poisonings result from dogs ingesting an entire jar of xylitol-sweetened vitamins or homemade baked goods made with bulk xylitol.
"Dogs don't have an off button," said Dr Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [ASPCA]. "They get into the muffins and eat an entire tin." Fortunately, she added, "if you get these animals in to a veterinarian, they tend to do quite well."
The ASPCA's poison center first raised an alarm about xylitol in 2004, after receiving 82 calls that year. Last year, it received 3727 calls, with at least 11 fatalities. The number of poisonings is likely higher, Dr Wismer said, in part because many cases aren't reported.
Although there has been speculation about xylitol being toxic to cats, there's too little known to make a substantiated claim, Dr Brutlag said. The substance may be harmful to other species, including cattle and baboons.
Products that list xylitol as the 1st ingredient often are the most hazardous, veterinarians say. But judging exactly how much xylitol is in a product is difficult. Some manufacturers won't disclose the exact xylitol content, citing trade secrecy.
Xylitol is listed as the 3rd ingredient in some flavors of "Trident" gum, for example, but a spokeswoman for its maker, Mondelez International Inc, said the xylitol content is proprietary. She said the ingredients are properly labeled and the products "are intended for human consumption."
"Ice Breakers Ice Cubes" gum, the Hershey Co brand ingested by [the dog in this case], is cited by some experts as among the most hazardous. It's "the biggest gum brand that we worry about," said Dr Amy Koenigshof, an assistant professor at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of a recent paper on xylitol toxicity. Xylitol makes up more than half the weight in certain "Ice Breakers" flavors, about 1.2 grams of xylitol per piece, according to Hershey's consumer helpline. That's about 8 to 10 times the amount of xylitol in some other popular gums. A pack of the brand, introduced in 2006, contains 40 pieces.
A toxic dose of xylitol -- enough to potentially cause low blood sugar or other symptoms -- is 0.1 grams per kilogram of the dog's weight. That means one piece could be toxic for a 26 pound [12kg] dog. Each piece is about 12 times as toxic to dogs as a piece of dark chocolate of the same weight, experts say.
"We certainly understand the deep passion that pet owners have for their animals, but there are many foods and ingredients, including xylitol-containing foods, intended for human consumption that should not be consumed by animals or pets," a Hershey's spokesman said.
In August , a family in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, rushed their Labrador retriever to an emergency vet after he started trembling and having seizures. He had downed the contents of 3 "Ice Breakers: containers left in a visiting teenager's backpack. "We're grateful he survived," said [a woman] who signed an online petition calling for xylitol warning labels. "If it's unsafe for anybody in the house, including pets, it should be labeled."
[As various holidays are approaching, this is a timely article as every pet owner should be aware of xylitol. Furthermore there are more of these toxic ingestions than the news media cover. Too often a pet owner is not aware of how dangerous this substance is. Many animals die of liver failure. However, as pointed out in the article, some animals survive and recover, but it can also be a costly ordeal.
Please remove pet access to toothpaste, candies, gums, mints, vitamins, cooked goods, and any other substance containing xylitol. Be aware of your pet's health and if the pet becomes ill, please take the animal to a veterinarian for treatment.