Xylitol & Dogs — Seek Treatment Before It’s Too Late!

Xylitol toxicity in dogs is something you don’t know much about until it happens to you. Before my daughter’s dog ate gum I knew xylitol was bad for dogs, but had no idea how dangerous it was and how quickly it could kill a dog.

And as much as I love natural approaches, natural is not going to cut it here. 

xylitol & dogs

The Hard Fact: Xylitol & Dogs Can Be A Fatal Combination

Xylitol acts fast on your dog. Depending on how much your dog ingests, your dog can be critically ill – and possibly dying -in as little as 30 minutes. So it’s one of those horrible situations where you either take your dog in immediately or you may end up in a critical, life-threatening situation.

Compounding the situation is the fact that in a lot of dog xylitol poisonings, you don’t know how much xylitol is in the product that your dog ate, and you may not know how much of it your dog ate either.

And even if you know exactly what they ate, only a veterinary toxicologist can compute the amount of xylitol in it for you – and chances are you’ll be on hold for a long time to talk to one.

What Is Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is used in food and non-food products such as sugar free gum and toothpaste. It is popular for diabetics because it sweetens food without triggering an increase in blood glucose or insulin levels.

It is most commonly extracted from the cellulose of birchwood and corn cobs.

Although it’s perfectly safe for humans,

Even a small amount can be fatally toxic to dogs.  

Which is why any vet, holistic or not, will tell you that if you think your dog has eaten something with xylitol, go IMMEDIATELY to a vet.

In an article about hypoglycemia in dogs published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, they recommend that on your way to the vet, give your dog some honey or maple syrup, or rub some on their gums – this will raise your dog’s blood sugar levels and help counter the sharp rise in insulin the xylitol causes. At the vet they will give more glucose if needed.

Scout’s Story

scoutt running with ball in her mouth before eating xylitol cropped

Scout is a 10 year old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and she lives with my daughter at Colorado State University in a house with my daughter and her two roommates.

Scout is an avid counter surfer, backpack scavenger (she thinks that open backpacks left on the floor are a dog buffet), and – as of last month – she’s the reason I learned about xylitol and dogs.

At about 4:00 in the afternoon one day last month, my daughter noticed that Scout was trembling and shaking. She thought it was a bit odd, but Scout can be a little high strung so Macy figured maybe Scout was a little cold, or just revved up.

That evening, Macy went to the basement to do her laundry and noticed that her roommate’s backpack was on the floor with some shredded wrappers next to it, making it obvious that Scout had taken something out and possibly eaten it, leaving the wrapper behind on the floor.

A closer investigation revealed the pieces of paper were from a Trident sugar free gum wrapper. Macy grabbed the wrapper and quickly checked with her roommate, asking how much of the gum was left in the pack. The roommate  replied that she hadn’t opened it yet; the pack was full. Worse yet, when Macy checked the wrapper, xylitol was the third ingredient listed.

As she stood there, she suddenly remembered seeing Scout shaking at 4 p.m. She ran upstairs, grabbed her phone, and called me.

Why Is Xylitol Bad For Dogs

When a dog ingests something with xylitol in it, the xylitol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Your dog’s pancreas confuses the xylitol with real sugar and rapidly releases a large amount of insulin, which in turn lowers the dog’s blood sugar levels (a condition called hypoglycemia). 

All of this can happen within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the xylitol (most common), or in as long as 12 hours (some products like certain gums contain stabilizers that slow down the absorption time).

The hypoglycemia happens so rapidly and is so severe (depending on the amount of xylitol ingested) that it can quickly cause seizures or even death.

Symptoms Of Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, symptoms of xylitol toxicity in a dog include vomiting, followed immediately by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar level:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Staggering
  • Shaking
  • Incoordination
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

Many times the onset of these symptoms is rapid (30 minutes). If the ingestion of xylitol was from eating gum, symptoms of hypoglycemia may not show up until several hours later.

Diagnosis

A presumptive diagnosis of xylitol poisoning is made if you know or suspect that the dog ate something containing xylitol, and there are signs of hypoglycemia or liver failure. Since clinical signs develop rapidly, your veterinarian will not generally wait for a confirmed diagnosis regarding the specific amount ingested before beginning treatment.

Is there an antidote for xylitol poisoning?

No. There is no antidote for xylitol poisoning, although treatment with intravenous dextrose (glucose) supplementation and liver protective drugs is beneficial.

Scout’s Story:

The Gravity Of The Situation Sets In

scout not feeling good from eating xylitol

I was relaxing in my kitchen after a long day when my phone rang. Macy’s story tumbled out, from the shaking at 4 p.m. to the empty gum wrapper that she found.

I didn’t panic at first (ignorance is bliss). But I did know enough to ask her if it was sugar free gum.

I then learned that not only was it sugar free – but xylitol was the #3 ingredient on the package.

I sat down and Googled “how much xylitol will kill a dog,” and the reality of the situation slowly set in. 

My first response was to think that maybe we could call poison control and see if we needed to go to a vet. 

But as I kept reading, everything I was reading about xylitol & dogs was terrifying. Story after story of dogs dying after eating only a very small amount of a sugar free product.

I asked Macy how much of the pack was left when Scout ate it, and she said “Mom it was a brand new pack of gum.” 

At that point I realized that Scout had possibly ingested enough to kill her. I told Macy to hang up, get in the car, and call the ER Vet on her way there.

How Much Xylitol Will Kill A Dog

I want to start with a great graphic I found on a website called Preventive Vet

Image used with permission of Preventive Vet

They noted that “the Xylitol-gum quantities are calculated based on a concentration of 1 gram of xylitol per piece of gum, and a xylitol dose of 0.5g/kg resulting in liver failure.”

It’s important to note, however, that the amount of xylitol in gum is highly variable – the amount of xylitol in one stick of sugar free gum can be anything from 0 to 1000mg, it depends on the manufacturer and the flavor of the gum.

It becomes obvious in the picture above that it doesn’t take much xylitol at all to kill a dog. This is the scariest part of xylitol, it takes such a small amount to be fatal, and an even smaller amount to cause hypoglycemia.

How Much Xylitol Did My Dog Eat? 

This is the million dollar question if your dog has ingested something with xylitol in it— and it’s next to impossible to answer.

The amount of xylitol that products contain is difficult to obtain for 2 reasons:

  1. The amount of xylitol in products is often proprietary information and is not listed on the package. 
  2. Many times you don’t know exactly how much of a particular product your dog ate, so even if you knew the amount of xylitol in the product you can’t calculate the exact amount your dog ingested, other than doing a “worst-case” scenario.

Once your dog is at the vet, your vet will contact a veterinary toxicologist – most likely at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, as they have access to specific xylitol amounts in food and non-food products. There is a charge for this (it was $125 in Nov 2021 when my dog had xylitol poisoning) but it is crucial information that could save your dog’s life.

Xylitol Dog Treatment Protocols

dog with iv from xylitol & dogs

There is no antidote for xylitol toxicity. Fast and aggressive veterinary treatment is required to reverse and minimize the toxic effects of the resulting hypoglycemia.

If it hasn’t been long since the dog ingested the xylitol, the vet may induce vomiting to get your dog to throw up what they ate: if done soon enough after ingestion this will reduce the amount of xylitol absorbed.

If the dog is already showing symptoms the vet will do multiple things:

  • Blood work will be performed (multiple times) to track your dog’s blood glucose and potassium levels (xylitol causes low levels of both). 
  • If either level is low, the vet may give the dog potassium (via supplement or IV) or administer glucose (food or IV) to bring low levels up.
  • Intravenous fluids may be given to help the body flush out the toxins, and frequent food to counteract low glucose levels.
  • The vet will keep the dog hospitalized in order to monitor the dog and administer any fluids, liver protectants, or other necessary supportive care.
  • The dog will remain at the vet until their blood glucose has returned to normal.

Scout’s Story:

What Happened At The ER Vet

When Macy arrived at the vet, two techs met her at the car saying “we need to take your dog right now” and rushed Scout inside.

The vet called me, asking me to approve their preliminary estimate for treatment: $2,300-3,500. Yep, I’m not kidding. And then they discussed with me that they could not guarantee she would survive. 

Are you running around your house throwing away everything with xylitol yet? 

Once they got Scout inside, here is what the vet did:

  • Induced vomiting (Macy didn’t know when Scout had eaten the gum so there was a chance it might still be in her stomach). No gum was vomited, so that told them it had been in her system a while.
  • Started Scout on IV fluids (I believe this is to help her body flush out the xylitol but I’m not 100% positive).
  • Gave her a nausea relief medicine (my bet is she kept heaving after emptying her stomach).
  • Monitored her blood sugar levels.
  • Contacted a veterinary toxicologist to determine exactly how much xylitol scout had ingested.

When the vet finally reached the toxicologist (she was on hold for over an hour), the toxicologist first computed two important things based on Scout’s weight: how much xylitol it would take to cause hypoglycemia, and how much could cause liver failure.

Next the toxicologist looked up the exact amount of xylitol in the Trident Watermelon gum Scout ate (it differs not only by manufacturer but by flavor). Macy knew Scout had eaten an entire pack so the toxicologist was able to determine the exact amount she had ingested. 

The results of all of these calculations: Scout was under the level that could cause liver failure (thank goodness!) but over the amount that could cause severe hypoglycemia so she was still at risk of seizures and would need to be monitored overnight.

How Long Does Xylitol Stay In A Dog’s System

Unfortunately this depends on too many factors to give a simple answer. It could be 20 minutes, it could be several days.

How long the xylitol says in a dog’s system depends on:

  1. What the xylitol-containing product is.
    Some products release their xylitol quickly into the body, but others have stabilizers which slow the xylitol absorption into your dog’s bloodstream. This means some are released in less than 30 minutes, but others – like certain chewing gums – may not show up until 12-18 hours later.
  2. How much of the offending product they ate.
  3. The individual dog and their metabolism rate.

Foods (And Household Products) That Contain Xylitol

products with xylitol that are dangerous to dogs

Researching what foods contain xylitol was a big eye opener for me – there are a lot, and many that may surprise you.

For example: did you realize that some low-sugar peanut butters use xylitol? I shudder to think of the unsuspecting dog owner who fills their dog’s Kong toy with sugar free peanut butter, only to find out hours later that they unknowingly killed their dog.

Many resources I read claimed the most common source of xylitol poisoning in dogs is sugar free gum. That said, there are more and more products using xylitol, so this may change. 

Here is a list of all the products I read about that might contain xylitol:

FOODS

  • Gum
  • Candy (including mints, chocolate)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jams and jellies
  • Syrup (ie for pancakes)
  • Pudding
  • Baked goods
  • Bulk xylitol (for baking)
  • Drink powders
  • Instant coffee
  • BBQ sauce and ketchup
  • Peanut butter
  • Ice cream
  • Low calorie desserts

NON-FOOD ITEMS

  • Toothpaste
  • Cough drops
  • Cough syrups
  • Vitamins (including chewable ones)
  • Melatonin supplements
  • Nasal spray
  • Mouthwash

Prevention Of Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs

You basically have two options for preventing of xylitol poisoning in dogs.

The first, and the most sure proof, is simple:

Don’t buy anything with xylitol in it!!

Trust me, this is the way to go. It’s just not worth the risk. 

We’re lucky – my daughter’s dog lived. But it cost me $1300, and if you look at the average vet cost for xylitol poisoning, $1300 was lucky. The quote we received was $2300-3500, and that was just to start, we would “revisit” the amount if needed.

But . . . $1300 is A LOT of money – money I could have spent on other things that I really want!

If for some reason you need to have something in your house that contains xylitol, I would encourage double layers of protection.

Keep it in 1) a closed container and 2) a closet at a level the dog can’t reach.

Never, ever keep anything containing xylitol on a counter, even if your dog’s not a counter surfer.

And never, ever keep anything with xylitol in a purse or a backpack – even if your dog “doesn’t get into” things like that. It only takes once.

Scout’s Happy Ending

Scout on trail hiking before eating xylitol cropped

Scout is a very lucky dog; the pack of gum she ate – through a stroke of sheer luck – was a flavor that didn’t have enough xylitol in it to cause liver failure and possible death for a dog of her weight.

The toxicologist warned she might still have seizures, so the vet kept Scout overnight, periodically testing her blood sugar levels. By morning, they said her sugar levels had remained stable and she could go home. 

Looking back and piecing together when the door to the basement had been open that day, Macy thinks Scout ate the gum in the morning before 9 a.m, and that the shaking at 4 p.m. was part of the dangerous hypoglycemic reaction. 

It’s also the reason Scout didn’t throw up any gum at the vet when they induced vomiting, and why her blood sugar stabilized faster than the vet thought it would.

Twelve hours and $1300 later, we emerged from the experience newly educated about the dangers of xylitol, a bit shell-shocked at the unexpected expense— but overall just feeling very fortunate that Macy had a dog to bring home at Thanksgiving.

Xylitol & Dogs: Not Worth The Risk

The biggest takeaway I want you to have after reading this article?

Get all the xylitol out of your house.

And if for some reason you can’t, store it with two barriers that keep your dog from getting into it — in a container in a cupboard, for example.

Not in a purse! And…

Not in a backpack!

Eventually someone forgets and leaves something on the floor, leaves a zipper open . . . and you will end up at the ER Vet just like Macy did.

And if that happens, remember: there is no natural xylitol treatment. You need to grab the packaging for whatever your dog ate and head to the vet as fast as you can.

Has your dog ever gotten into xylitol? Share your story below to help others learn of the dangers.

Until next time –

Naturally,

Karen 

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Karen Pedersen Written by:

Karen is an independent copywriter who loves dogs and everything about them. She is married to Scott, has 4 kids, and likes to take a natural and holistic approach to living and pet ownership.

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