Veterinarians warn of effects of xylitol on dogs

vet_dog3_resizedVeterinarians across the country are warning pet owners about xylitol, a sugar alcohol-derived sweetener used in an increasing number of foods, which can pose a serious and potentially fatal threat to dogs and other animals when ingested even in small amounts.

Most recently, xylitol has been used as an ingredient in high-protein peanut butter and other nut butter spreads, which owners often use as a treat or reward for their dogs. However, according to a recent article, when an animal ingests the chemical it raises the insulin level in their body, which drops their sugar levels. This can cause hypoglycemia, liver damage and even liver failure in as little as 30 minutes.

In dogs, ingestion of as little as 0.1 gram of xylitol per kilogram body weight (0.1 g/kg) can cause a rapid and life-threatening complications, and those unfortunate enough to ingest just 0.5 g/kg, are at risk of suffering from acute hepatic necrosis, a devastating, expensive, and frequently fatal form of liver failure.

Vets say pets will show signs of lethargy, weakness and even seizures if they consume xylitol, and while peanut and other nut butter spreads are the most common sources, it can be found in many other foods—especially those that are advertised as “sugar free” including ice cream, yogurts, chewable vitamins, “sugarless” gum, chocolate, protein bars and more.

This is not the first warning regarding xylitol and pets, however. In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning on the chemical, but since then xylitol has become even more commonplace in the market and reported cases of xylitol toxicity in dogs have steadily climbed.

The article states that every year since the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA-APCC) started tracking such cases in 2007, the number has continued to rise. In that initial year, ASPCA-APCC received 1,764 xylitol-related calls, whereas in 2014 they handled 3,727 xylitol calls.

“That’s a 210% increase in cases and means that there’s now an average of over 10 dogs eating and being sickened or killed by xylitol every day,” Oregon veterinarian Dr. Jason Nicholas said in the article. “These are just the cases that get called into ASPCA-APCC, there are other animal poison control hotlines and many cases either never make it to the vet or are treated by vets who don’t call animal poison control,” he added.

This increase of incidence has caused Dr. Nicholas to form two different petitions in an effort to get the word out about the dangers of xylitol for dogs. One petition is focusing on manufacturers and the other is to the FDA, both of which he says are making progress.

In fact, some nut butter companies have agreed to post warnings for pet owners on their websites and food labels, which Dr. Nicholas said will help tremendously in raising awareness and aid in the treatment of those dogs that do get access.

Nicholas said he regularly sees dogs with xylitol exposure at his veterinary clinic, but it’s likely that many cases are never called in and that some affected dogs aren’t taken in for treatment.

“A lot of vets know about xylitol toxicity and they know how to treat it,” he said in the article. “I’d wager a guess that [the incidence is] probably three times that. It’s already prevalent and will get more prevalent because of all the products out there with xylitol in them.”

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