Most pet owners know that chocolate is a big no-no for dogs. But here’s something to chew on: a common ingredient in sugarless gum and snacks can cause a canine catastrophe. The culprit is a sweetener called xylitol.
While you may never have heard of it, there’s a good chance you have it in your house. Xylitol is common in sugarless gum and in sugar-free snacks, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Cases of xylitol poisoning in dogs have increased in recent years as the sweetener has been added to lots of new foods, Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, vice president of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, told Paw Nation. “There definitely has been an increase in the exposures of dogs to xylitol over the last several years, simply because there’s more xylitol out there.”
The chemical is completely safe for humans and most other animals, but in dogs, xylitol causes blood sugar levels to plummet. When blood sugar drops, Gwaltney- Brant says, “the brain isn’t getting enough energy to do its job.” After swallowing xylitol, dogs may vomit and become lethargic and disoriented. “If blood sugar drops low enough, they can have seizures,” Gwaltney- Brant says. Without treatment, dogs can die. That’s not all. Dogs that eat a lot of xylitol can also suffer from liver damage. Researchers aren’t sure what causes the liver problems, Gwaltney-Brant says, but the results can be grave. A little xylitol goes a long way. Just two sticks of sugarless gum can be fatal for a 20-pound dog, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune, and a single sugar-free pudding cup can spell trouble for a 90- pound pooch. But those numbers can be misleading, Gwaltney-Brant cautions.
Some brands of gum or candy contain no xylitol, while others contain relatively large amounts. Even within a single brand, the level of xylitol can vary from flavor to flavor and batch to batch, she says. If you know or suspect your dog has gotten into foods that might contain xylitol, take him to the vet immediately, Gwaltney- Brant says. Problems from blood sugar levels dropping can occur quickly – “often within 30 minutes to an hour,” she notes. Vets can monitor blood sugar levels and start treatment to get blood sugar back up to safe levels. If you’re a fan of sugar-free products, check the labels to see whether they contain xylitol. And it should go without saying that you should do your best to keep Fido away from your gum. He can’t blow bubbles anyway.