Downeast Dog News


By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Apr 01, 2019

Q. I have been told xylitol is toxic to dogs. Can you tell me about it?

A. Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance, which is a sugar alcohol used as a sugar substitute. It is found in berries, plums, corn, oats, mushrooms, lettuce, trees, and other fruits. Commercially, xylitol is extracted from corn fiber, trees such as birch and other hardwoods, and other vegetables.

Although xylitol has been used for decades as a sugar substitute, there has been an increase in popularity due to its low glycemic index and its dental plaque fighting properties.

These properties are appealing to diabetics, low carbohydrate dieters, and dentists. You can find xylitol in all kinds of products from dental care products, over the counter medications, prescription drugs, candy, vitamins, processed foods, such as peanut butter, jelly and jams, baked goods, low sugar puddings, and snacks.

For people this is a pretty safe product. Some may experience a laxative effect when first ingesting this product. For dogs there is another story.

Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. A very small amount can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure, and death.

People and dogs control their blood sugar by insulin released from the pancreas. In humans xylitol doesn’t stimulate a release of insulin. When dogs ingest xylitol, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream triggering a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This results in a dramatic drop in blood sugar causing hypoglycemia that can be life threatening. Hypoglycemia can occur within 10 to 60 minutes after ingestion.

The dose of xylitol that can make a dog sick is about 50 mg per pound. This dose would result in hypoglycemia. The more the dog ingests, the greater the risk of liver failure. Dogs eating gum is the number one cause of toxicity seen by poison control. The amount of xylitol found in gum varies. Some brands have a small amount, and it could take 9 pieces of gum to cause a 45 pound dog to develop severe hypoglycemia while it would take 45 pieces to cause liver failure. In other common brands, there is 1 gram of xylitol per piece of gum. This means only 2 pieces of gum will result in severe hypoglycemia, and only 10 pieces will cause liver failure.

The symptoms to watch out for are vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination or difficulty standing, depression or lethargy, tremors, seizures, and coma.

What to do if your dog ingests anything with xylitol? Have your dog seen immediately by a veterinarian. Do not induce vomiting because your dog could already be hypoglycemic. If possible bring the package of the product consumed. The veterinarian will do blood tests to assess if your dog is hypoglycemic, has low potassium, or is in liver failure. She will start treatment with IV fluids, dextrose, liver protectants, and other supportive treatment. Your dog will need to be hospitalized to monitor blood sugar and liver function. If caught soon enough, the prognosis is good. If liver function is compromised, the prognosis is worse, and if the dog is in a coma, the prognosis is poor.

Not all product labels list xylitol as an ingredient. If a label states only, “artificial sweetener”, presume it contains xylitol.

There is no antidote for xylitol poisoning, so if you are using xylitol containing products, be sure to keep them completely away from your dog. Remember Fido is smart and resourceful.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine