Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog?

Xylitol is a product that is becoming increasingly popular for use in a number of common human food products and household items.  Unlike the much talked about chocolate though, the dangers of this product are little known amongst the wider dog community. We hope that this article will provide you with some useful information and that you can continue raising awareness of the risk to your doggy loving friends and family.

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 1
Most dog owners know about the risks of chocolate but there is an even more toxic ingredient.  Xylitol is causing a growing number of cases of dog poisonings


What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute.  It is a form of sugar alcohol and it can be extracted from a variety of sources including corn, oats, mushrooms and certain fruits and trees.

Because it is a water-soluble solid it is commonly used as a thickener or sweetener in a wide variety of foods.  It has been around for a while but it has grown in popularity in recent years. This is partly to do with its dental health properties, it is shown to help prevent plaque build-up and reduce the risk of cavities, but also because it is a much lower fat alternative to sugar with a very low glycemic index which can help with weight loss and reducing blood sugar levels and it can lower the risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 2
Sugar-free chewing gum often contains high quantities of xylitol

What Can It Do to Dogs?

Whilst is a safe substance for humans, although it can produce a light laxative effect if high quantities are consumed, for dogs, it can be incredibly toxic.

In dogs, the xylitol is absorbed extremely quickly into their bloodstream.  This triggers a response in the pancreas and a large amount of insulin is released from it.

All this insulin being released into the system at one time means that the dog’s blood sugar level drops extremely quickly.  This is called hypoglycemia and this can be a life-threatening condition. It happens extremely quickly after consuming the xylitol too.  The effects can be seen in anything from 10 minutes up to one hour.

Your dog could end up in a coma and suffer from acute hepatic necrosis, a very severe form of liver failure, if left untreated.

What Are the Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning?

If you suspect that your dog has eaten something containing Xylitol, you need to get to the vet straight away.

The symptoms can vary but will often include some or all of the following:

  • Fatigue, lack of energy, could appear depressed
  • Stumbling, confusion, coordination problems, collapse
  • Shaking, Twitching
  • Seizures
  • Passing out with the possibility of going into a Coma
  • Seizures

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 3
A dog suffering from xylitol poisoning can become extremely lethargic, disorientated, can vomit and start to fit

How Much Xylitol Is Toxic to Dogs?

The quantity of Xylitol that needs to be consumed by a dog to cause them severe risk are extremely small, it is such a potent toxin to them.

It has been suggested that liver failure can occur in dogs if they ingest 0.5mg of xylitol per kilogram of body weight.

Chewing Gum is one of the most common items containing Xylitol.  Dogs can be guilty of picking pieces up that have been spat out on the ground or if they pick a packet out of a bag and eat it, it would likely be devastating.  Whilst the amount of xylitol found in chewing gum varies per brand, there is a common amount of 1g of Xylitol per piece of gum. This would mean that a small breed dog like a Chihuahua or a Yorkshire Terrier would only need to eat a few pieces for it to potentially be fatal.  A dog like a Labrador would need considerably more but, if they managed to eat a whole packet in one go they could also become extremely sick and possibly be at risk of death.

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 4
Smaller breeds can suffer from xylitol poisoning  after being exposed to a smaller amount of the ingredient than larger breeds

What Is Xylitol Commonly Found In?

You may be surprised to find out the number of things that Xylitol is often added to.  Some of the common items are listed below (we have detailed those things you may possibly actively feed to your dog at the top)

  • Peanut Butter – most quality peanut butters don’t contain any sweeteners but those that do often use Xylitol.  This is probably one of the most worrying ones for dogs owners as it can often be used as a plug when stuffing a treat toy like a Classic Kong or added when making up a batch of doggy safe cookies.  ALWAYS check the label before using. Don’t forget, even peanut butter without xylitol should be used in moderation though.  There are lots of great natural peanut butters without xylitol or any added salt or sugar. If you want to be environmentally friendly,  make sure that you also pick one without palm oil. The Spread the Love NAKED Organic Peanut Butter is a good example of one without xylitol, added sugar or palm oil.  Or you could try making your own!
  • Certain baked goods -so if you are making doggy muffins or even just sneaking your dog a piece of cake you need to be extra careful that the baked goods do not contain any xylitol.  There was a tragic case in the UK recently of a Vizsla, Ruby, who managed to counter surf and steal two brownies from the kitchen counter. Whilst this would not normally have been a problem, because the mix contained xylitol Ruby became incredibly sick and after eight days battling in a specialist hospital she very sadly died.
  • Sugar-free gum – so, if you have a scavenger that is likely to pick things up from the ground you need to be extra vigilant.  If they are super greedy and could pick things out of your bag or pockets, be careful if you tend to carry gum.
  • Some sugar-free sweets/candies  – again watch what you have in your bag and be careful of what children may try to feed to dogs or even just accidentally drop on the floor.
  • Cough Syrup
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste
  • Certain deodorants
  • Certain sugar-free drinks
  • Certain over the counter vitamins, allergy medications and laxatives
  • Certain lip balms
  • Some make up
  • Certain brands of sunscreen
  • It can even be found in some brands of baby wipes and diapers!

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 5
Make sure that you use a doggy specific toothpaste when you brush your dog’s teeth.  Some human toothpastes contain xylitol

The Number of Cases of Xylitol Poisoning Is Rising

There have been an increasing number of reported deaths that have occurred as a result of Xylitol poisoning and this has been largely attributed to the fact that dog owners are unaware of the risk the ingredient presents.

The number of reported cases of xylitol poisoning has risen so dramatically in recent years that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued a warning about the risks of the ingredient.  The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Centre also released some alarming figures a few years ago.  They first started tracking cases of xylitol poisoning in 2007 and that year they recorded over 1,700 cases (high enough to be a concern anyway) and then, 7 years later, in 2014, the number had risen to over 3.700.  A whopping increase and a very concerning one too. This number is estimated to be radically underreported too – remember not every case will be reported to the ASPCA APCC.

What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has Ingested Xylitol?

It is vital that you get to your vet as quickly as possible if you suspect your dog has ingested Xylitol.  There is no antidote. Your dog will need rapid and vigorous treatment to minimise the chance of serious illness or death.  If you manage to get your dog to the vet immediately after ingestion then your vet will likely induce vomiting to rid it from their system.  If this can be done quickly enough then there can be a chance of a good recovery. Unless it is on the advice of your vet, you should never try to induce vomiting yourself.  If the xylitol has been in your dog’s system too long, inducing vomiting can actually cause more harm than good.

Your vet will likely run up certain bloodwork to establish what problems may need to be treated.

If your dog is treated before any of the clinical symptoms start to appear then the prognosis is good.  It is much more serious when the symptoms have started to appear as they will be showing as a result of the damage the xylitol is already inflicting on your dog’s system.  If your dog slips into a coma or liver failure has begun then the prognosis is likely to be poor.

Treatment will often include giving your dog sugar supplements (dextrose), IV fluids and drugs that are designed to help protect the liver.  Frequent re-evaluation of bloodwork will likely also be required.

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 6
If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, you should get them to the vet as soon as possible

Is It a Problem for Any of My Other Pets?

A study that was published in 2018 in the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics suggests that cats are not subject to the same toxic effects from Xylitol as those that occur with dogs.

We do not know what effect it may have on other small animals so it is always worth being vigilant and taking appropriate precautions if you have other pets in the home too.

Always Read the Labels

Whilst you should always keep anything you don’t want your dog to access out of their reach, for items that they may be allowed normally or for things you know may contain Xylitol it is always worth checking the label and making even more sure that your dog can’t access these items.

Whilst a product should state if xylitol is included in the ingredients, at the moment, manufacturers are not required to disclose the quantity of xylitol that is used in the product.  This can mean that a lot of guesswork is required if you do suspect that your dog has ingested a product containing the ingredient as you won’t know how big a problem it could be.

If it was made more transparent there may be occasions when dog owners would be put through less stress and heartache.  Their dog may not actually need the treatment they receive if the quantity of xylitol is very small but, because it is not known, sometimes vets will have to begin treatment based on a worst case scenario and this can also prove to be costly too.

What Other Precautions Can I Take to Reduce the Chances of My Dog Suffering from Xylitol Poisoning?

Good housekeeping is one of the most important considerations when trying to minimise any risk to your dog of being subjected to Xylitol poisoning.

Make sure that anything that could be a potential problem is always kept in a secure space that your dog can’t access.

Some people relate experiences of their scavenging dogs being prone to picking up pieces of discarded gum from the roads and pavement.  If you live in an area where this is a common occurrence and your dog is greedy then it would be best to keep them on a lead and be vigilant.  For a scavenging dog, it is probably good practice to teach a drop it and leave it command to minimise the chances of them picking things up anyway.

Always tidy away any risky foods, especially if you have a counter surfing dog.

If you have children make sure that you are careful about what they are eating and where. If they are enjoying some candies on the sofa whilst watching a movie alongside your dog, if you are not keeping an eye on them could they be feeding your dog without you being aware?

A lot of the reported cases of xylitol poisoning relate to dogs picking chewing gum out of handbags or counter surfing for cakes that the owners don’t even realise have a risky substance in them.

NEVER use human toothpaste when brushing your dog’s teeth.  Not only is the foaming not pleasant and the flavour can be too strong for most dogs but, if there is xylitol in it, then it is obviously a much more serious issue.  A good enzymatic dog toothpaste like the Petrodex Toothpaste for dogs is a popular choice.

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 7
Make sure that your children do not leave sugar free candies lying about where your dog can get access to them

Some Other Common Household Foods That Pose a Risk to Dogs If Ingested

Most people now know about the risks of chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) and grapes to dogs but there are also a number of other common household foods that can be risky and we thought this would be a good time to remind you of these.

  • Onions
  • Corn on the cob can cause a blockage if the whole cob is ingested
  • Avocado
  • Cooked Bones (they can easily splinter and cause internal damage)
  • Products containing caffeine

Xylitol: What Is It, Where Is It Found and Why It Is so Dangerous for Your Dog? 8
Onions are another ingredient that is toxic to your dog so make sure that they are always kept out of their reach and that you don’t feed anything containing them to your pup