Chewing Gum Could Kill Your Dog: Fatal Risk Posed By Common Sweetener Xylitol

Animal welfare groups are urging for products containing the sweetener Xylitol to be labeled with warnings, after a rise in serious cases of dog poisoning, reports WSJ.

Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol extracted from plants and has become increasingly popular as a sweetener.

Although fit for human consumption, in dogs Xylitol causes a dangerous release of insulin and low blood sugar, leading to seizures, brain damage, and liver failure.

Xylitol is almost 100 times as poisonous as milk chocolate for dogs.

Manufacturers use Xylitol in many products including mints, gummy vitamins, toothpaste, specialty peanut butter, and melatonin sleep aids.

Dr. Ahna Brutlag, senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline told the WSJ, that Xylitol is presently one of the most dangerous food-related toxins that she encounters in pets.

At her center Dr. Brutlag has received 2,800 calls about known or suspected xylitol ingestion in 2015 alone, a huge increase compared with just 300 in 2009.

Dr. Brutlag said, “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.”

Many Xylitol toxicity cases involve dogs consuming sugar free chewing gum, but the most serious poisonings result from dogs ingesting large quantities, such as entire jars of xylitol-sweetened vitamins or homemade baked goods which include bulk Xylitol among their ingredients.

As a general rule, products that list Xylitol as the first ingredient are the most hazardous, but knowing exactly how much Xylitol is present in a product is difficult, as manufacturers don’t reveal the precise xylitol content because of trade secrecy.

Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said they had received 3,727 calls and seen at least 11 fatalities.

The number of poisonings in reality is probably higher when factoring in the many cases that go unreported.

Xylitol Dogs

Ice Breakers Ice Cubes gum, the Hershey Co. brand, has been singled out by some experts as one of the the most hazardous products to contain Xylitol.

Dr. Amy Koenigshof, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of a recent paper on xylitol toxicity described Ice Breakers as “the biggest gum brand that we worry about”.

Ice Breakers has eight to 10 times the amount of Xylitol of some other popular gums.

A pack of ice breakers contains 40 pieces with 1.2 grams of Xylitol per piece. A toxic dose of Xylitol—enough to cause low blood sugar and other symptoms—is 0.1 grams per kilogram of a dog’s weight.

That means one piece could be toxic for a 26-pound dog, with each piece about 12 times as toxic to dogs as a piece of dark chocolate of the same weight.

Speaking to CBS, Dr. Ashley Gallagher at the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington D.C., said she believes vigilance and awareness on the part of dog owners is the most effective safeguard.

“You just have to be really careful because dogs are nosy little creatures and they are hungry all the time. I know my dogs are, and they are just looking for a treat. So you have to really watch them” Gallagher said.

Dr. Gallagher advised dog owners to inspect the contents of their kitchens and check the labels of all products that say “sugar-free, and urge anything that contains Xylitol should be kept out of reach of pets.

[Image by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)