Every year around the holidays, dog parents are reminded of the danger of feeding their four-legged friends various human foods. Luckily, most dog owners know how serious some ingredients like chocolate and grapes can be for dogs. However, there is one ingredient that continually catches dog owners and their dogs off-guard: xylitol. While this artificial sweetener may sound like it belongs in food aboard the ISS, it’s actually a common sugar replacement in many sweet treats you may find around your house.
Making matters more confusing for dog owners is the emergence of more and more artificial sweeteners in ‘sugar-free’ products. So, which are safe for your dog and what should you do if your dog gets into a dangerous sugar substitute? We’ll cover the most common faux sweeteners from erythritol to Splenda and what to do if your dog gives into their toxic sweet tooth.
Xylitol & Dogs: A Toxic Combination
When it comes to harmful ingredients, xylitol is one of the worst. The Pet Poison Helpline continues to receive over 6,000 calls every year for dogs that ingest xylitol.
This artificial sweetener is not just dangerous for dogs–it can be fatal. The most frightening aspect of xylitol toxicity for dogs is that it only takes a small amount to poison your dog, and it only takes hours–even minutes in severe cases–for irreparable damage to be done.
What Causes Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs?
It may seem strange that we can consume xylitol without any harmful effects while the same substance can be fatal for our furry best friends. However, the difference lies in how your dog’s body (their pancreas, more specifically) responds to the influx of this sugar alcohol.
Essentially, your dog’s body confuses xylitol for real sugar. When this happens, their pancreas sends out a burst of insulin to trap and store the sugar. However, because xylitol is not ‘real sugar,’ the insulin begins sweeping up and trapping the other sugar in your dog’s bloodstream, causing an extreme deficit and hypoglycemia.
What Products Have Xylitol in Them?
Xylitol has been included in dental products and sugar-free gums for decades. However, over the years, it has crept into other common foods and household beauty products, such as
- Sugar-free baked goods
- Sugar-free peanut butter
- Barbecue sauces
- Jams & jellies
- Powdered drink mixes
- Gummy vitamins
Other names for xylitol include
- Sugar alcohol
- Wood sugar
- Birch sugar
- Birch bark extract
How Much Xylitol is Toxic for a Dog?
It only takes a tiny amount of xylitol to send your dog into a hypoglycemic state or cause permanent liver damage. Just a tiny bit more could be fatal. According to Compendium: Continuing Education For Veterinarians, dogs that ingest .1 g/kg can go into hypoglycemic shock. Dogs that ingest less .5g/kg can experience liver failure.
In other words:
- One piece of gum or breath mint with xylitol could prove fatal to a 10-pound dog.
- A ¼ teaspoon of xylitol or 2 mints could be fatal to a 20-pound dog.
- One teaspoon of xylitol or 4 mints could be fatal to an 80-pound dog.
How Long Does It Take for a Dog to Show Symptoms of Xylitol Toxicity?
The effects of xylitol occur rapidly… especially compared to many other types of poisons. The first signs of xylitol poisoning begin to show in 20 to 30 minutes. Typically, the symptoms often last 6 to 12 hours. If not treated, a dog with xylitol poisoning will likely have seizures, be unable to walk, and often pass out.
For dogs that consume a large amount of xylitol or have sensitive systems, death can occur in less than 6 hours.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning?
Many owners aren’t aware that their dogs snuck a piece of gum or munched on a few mints. Instead, they notice their dog’s symptoms. Knowing these first signs of xylitol poisoning could save your dog's life:
- Wobbly legs or the inability to stand
- Lack of coordination
- Tremors or shakes
- Passing out or coma
What Should You Do If Your Dog Eats Xylitol?
If you suspect your dog has eaten anything with xylitol, do not wait to call your vet or bring your dog in. If this happens outside of normal business hours, head to the after-hours or emergency vet, and call on the way. If your area doesn’t have an emergency vet, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
Bring along the remaining packaging or product to the vet if you can. This can help them verify how much your dog ate. While this won’t be your vet’s first priority, it could prove useful.
How Do Vets Treat Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs?
When a dog arrives at the vet with suspected xylitol poisoning, the veterinary team will immediately spring into action. Because time is of the essence, they likely will not test for xylitol itself. Instead, they will begin to treat your dog’s hypoglycemia and use bloodwork to determine your dog’s blood sugar and potassium levels.
Many vets will induce vomiting to reduce the amount of xylitol in your dog’s system. Then, your vet will set your dog up with intravenous treatment, including dextrose, a form of glucose or sugar. They will also administer drugs to prevent liver damage.
How to Protect Your Dog from Xylitol Poisoning
The first step to protecting your dog from the serious effects of xylitol is to keep any products with this ingredient out of paw’s reach. This includes toothpaste, gum, and mouthwash. Part of this step includes keeping handbags, tote bags, and backpacks that may have gum in them in a closed closet or a hook high out of reach.
Secondly, never give your dog a handout of human food if you’re unsure of what sweeteners may be in it. It’s important to remind kids that human food is for people, not pets–just in case. During the holidays, it’s a good idea to provide designated dog treats for guests to spoil your dog with, so they don’t feel tempted to share holiday sweets.
Finally, when you have houseguests, be sure they keep their suitcases and toiletry bags in a secure location.
Is Xylitol Poisonous to Cats?
As of now, there is no evidence to suggest that xylitol is dangerous for cats. Additionally, cats do not have the ability to taste sweet flavors, so items with xylitol are less tempting to them.
Other Artificial Sweeteners & Their Poisoning Potential for Dogs
While xylitol poses a major threat to your dog’s health, other sweeteners are not as dangerous. Of course, your dog doesn’t need excess sweets in their diet, if they stumble upon one of these sugar replacements, we have to give you peace of mind. So, if you’re looking to bake or treat some alternative sweets, here’s what you need to know:
Is Erythritol Safe for Dogs?
Yes. Erythritol has been one of the more common sugar alternatives in keto desserts and baked goods. While erythritol is a form of sugar alcohol, it is deemed safe for pets in small amounts. If your dog chows down on this sweetener, though, they may experience an upset stomach, including vomiting and diarrhea.
Is Stevia Safe for Dogs?
Yes. Whether your dog comes across the little green packets of Stevia that you use to sweeten your coffee or tea–or the stevia plant, don’t stress. Stevia is safe for your dog in small quantities. However, if they decide to consume an entire box of Stevia packets, you can expect them to have quite the tummy ache and even diarrhea.
Is Aspartame or Equal Safe for Dogs?
Yes. This sugar replacement is the one you find in blue packets, and it poses little-to-no threat to your dog’s health. Again, if your dog eats too much aspartame, they may experience a tummy ache.
Is Sweet’n-Low or Saccharin Safe for Dogs?
Yes. This sweetener has been a staple on diner tables and in households for decades–and is safe for dogs in small amounts. While including saccharin in your dog’s diet long-term likely isn’t a great idea, you need not worry if they have a tad. If they eat a lot in one sitting, they may get an upset stomach.
Is Splenda or Sucralose Safe for Dogs?
Yup. Your dog can safely consume a small amount of sucralose without you needing to worry. Like other faux sweeteners (with the exception of xylitol), larger amounts will likely cause your dog to have diarrhea and an upset tummy.
Is Monk Fruit Sweetener Safe for Dogs?
Yes. As of now, monk fruit poses no harm to dogs. Of course, Monk fruit is the new-kid-on-the-block when it comes to sugar replacements, so always act with caution if you’re using it in a household with dogs.
Remind Your Dog They’re Sweet Enough–& Avoid Unnecessary Sweeteners
Ultimately, your dog does not need any excess sugar or sugar replacements in their diet. Not only is your dog a sweetheart, already, but conditioning them to crave sugar can be detrimental to their long-term health. So, always opt for healthier snacks and err on the side of safety when it comes to storing gum, mints, and other products that may have hidden xylitol in them.