Sweetener xylitol toxic to dogs, FDA warns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned dog owners that xylitol, a sweetener used in sugarless gum, mints, toothpaste and even baked goods, is toxic to their pets.

Low-calorie sweetener used in mints, toothpaste, baked goods can kill dogs

If a dog consumes sugarless gum or other foods sweetened with xylitol, its health is at risk. The U.S. FDA has warned the artificial sweetener is toxic to dogs. (William Mathis/Associated Press)

Keep your dog away from your pack of sugarless gum — it could be deadly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned dog owners that xylitol, a sweetener used in sugarless gum, mints, toothpaste and even baked goods, is toxic to their pets.

Dogs who ingest xylitol are at risk of hypoglycemia and, if they eat enough, seizures and liver failure, the FDA said in a consumer alert issued Thursday.

Xylitol, sometimes known by its brand name Xyla, is a sugar alcohol, a substance that occurs naturally in berries, plums, corn, oats, mushrooms, lettuce and some trees. Increasingly, it is being used a sugar substitute because it is as sweet as sucrose, without the calories.
Xylitol is increasingly used in products such as sugarless gum, baked goods, mouthwash, toothpaste and mints. (CBC)

Health Canada approved the use of xylitol as a natural health product more than 10 years ago and it is safe for humans to eat.

In humans, xylitol does not trigger the release of insulin by the pancreas and blood sugar is not affected, but in dogs, it causes a release of insulin and blood sugar can become dangerously low.

Act fast if dog eats xylitol

​If a dog eats something that contains xylitol, it's time to go to the vet, the FDA warns.

Toronto Emergency Veterinary Hospital urges "fast and aggressive" treatment by a vet in any case of xylitol poisoning. Take the package of whatever the dog ate with you, so the vet can assess the amount of xylitol ingested, it advises.

According to the veterinary hospital, symptoms will develop within 15 to 30 minutes and include:

  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness.
  • Unco-ordination or difficulty walking or standing.
  • Depression or lethargy.
  • Tremors.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.

A vet will test the dog's blood sugar levels before treating, but can prevent liver failure if the dog gets treatment early enough, says an advisory sheet written by Toronto veterinarian Norm Nasser.

The most common cases of xylitol poisoning of dogs involved sugarless gum, but the sweetener has become more popular in recent years and is being used in numerous products, the FDA reported.

The toxicity of xylitol to cats has not yet been tested, the FDA added, but cats are less likely to chew on foods that are sweet.

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