Xylitol is a common sugar substitute. One of the most common products that contain xylitol is sugar-free gum. It can also be found in sugar-free candies and many dental products, such as mouthwashes and toothpastes.
After ingestion by a dog or less commonly by a ferret (NOTE: Xylitol does not affect cats) it causes the release of insulin, which can result in a sudden drop in blood sugar also known as hypoglycemia.
This in turn may cause the following symptoms:
- Loss of balance or ataxia
- Depression, seizures or coma
- Liver failure
As little Xylitol as 0.1 grams per kilogram of body weight can result in hypoglycemia. A typical stick of gum contains 0.3 to 0.4 grams of xylitol, which means that a 5kg dog could be poisoned by as little as a stick and a half of gum.
Liver damage requires 1 gram per kilogram of body weight, significantly more than the dose to cause hypoglycemia but still not a very large amount. For instance, the same 5kg dog could get potentially fatal liver disease by eating a package of gum sweetened with Xylitol
If your dog consumes a product containing Xylitol, you must immediately either contact a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
When a patient is seen relatively soon after ingestion, vomiting is induced. Afterward, an intravenous drip is maintained for a minimum of 24 hours. Liver enzymes, electrolytes, phosphorous and blood clotting tests are monitored for 2 to 3 days. If the patient responds well to treatment and there are no hematological abnormalities 3 days following ingestion, then there should be no further concerns and the patient can be discharged.
Unfortunately, if immediate treatment is not instituted after xylitol ingestion, the outcome can be disastrous.