Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance found in many different types of berries and vegetables. It is in a class of compounds known as sugar alcohols that have become increasingly popular as food additives because they provide a sweetness comparable to sugar, while packing only a fraction of the calories. Xylitol also minimally impacts the glycemic or simple carbohydrate index for people on low carbohydrate diets for weight loss, management of diabetes, or both. It is extracted and derived primarily from corn, bark, and other vegetable sources and exists as a white powder that resembles and tastes like regular sugar.
Xylitol is virtually harmless to people, however, it can be deadly in dogs if ingested in sufficient quantities. It often does not take much and dogs are naturally attracted to the sweet tastes of the foods it is present in. The primary danger stems from the fact that a dog’s pancreatic islet cells that are responsible for secreting insulin in response to the ingestion of simple carbohydrates (to trigger the absorption of glucose out of the blood stream and into cells) are also stimulated by xylitol (xylitol does not trigger the same insulin release in humans). The result is that within 15-60 minutes of ingestion, a dog may start experiencing the dangerous effects of low blood sugar, aka, hypoglycemia, that can set off seizures, coma, and acute death. In some cases, canine patients that experience xylitol toxicity also go into liver failure, but the mechanism by which that occurs is still not understood and speculative at best.
Common holiday foods that contain xylitol include:
Dog owners should also be cognoscente of common year round household food items that commonly contain xylitol:
Peanut butter is a big food item we should all spread awareness about as it is a common modality people use to disguise medications they are administering to dogs. As such, it is always prudent to check the ingredients of peanut butter prior to using it has a way to medicate dogs.
The toxic dose of Xylitol in dogs is 50 mg per pound of body weight (100 mg per kg). If ingestion of xylitol by a dog is suspected, it is imperative that owners seek veterinary care immediately. Signs of xylitol toxicity include:
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.