Sweet on Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar-alcohol that is produced from the bark of hardwood and corn cob remnants from ethanol plants. It is mostly recognized in the human world for its use as a sugar substitute, but not many people know that it is present in many other products that we use every day. Xylitol is also used as an anti-cariogenic (anti cavity) in toothpastes; a humectant in lotions, skin gels and deodorant; and it also can prevent fermentation and molding so it is often used as a preservative in food.
Xylitol, as many people already know, is very toxic to dogs. There have been no accredited reports acknowledging its toxicity in cats, however precautions should still be taken if you suspect that your cat has been exposed to Xylitol. In dogs, when Xylitol has been ingested, the first sign is usually hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). If your dog is hypoglycemic, they will start to exhibit signs of lethargy, shakiness, stumbling, and potentially seizures. These symptoms will usually begin to occur within 30-60 minutes after ingestion, but has the potential to be delayed for as long as 12 hours after. The lowest dose of Xylitol that is necessary to start causing hypoglycemia is 0.1g/kg of body weight. After hypoglycemia, if your dog has ingested enough Xylitol, it can cause hepatic necrosis. The dose needed to cause hepatic necrosis is approximately 0.5g/kg of weight. This is evident 1-3 days following exposure. In a regular piece of gum, the amount of Xylitol present is 0.22-1.0g. This is enough to cause Hypoglycemia in a 10 pound (4.5kg) dog.
When manufacturers create products that include Xylitol as an ingredient, they are not required to list it or place the amount of each ingredient on the product label. If you are ever wondering if Xylitol is present, look at the ingredient list and look for “Xylitol” or any other ingredients ending in “-tol” which would be the sugar alcohols. You can also look at the nutrition information under “Carbohydrates” and you will be able to determine the total amount of “sugar alcohol”.
There is currently no clinical test that can accurately detect Xylitol, so doctors rely on information about history of exposure, clinical signs, and other laboratory tests. If your dog has been exposed to Xylitol, you can expect the following forms of treatment when you bring them into the hospital; your dog will be started on IV fluids with dextrose to help with the hypoglycemia until the dog is able to self-regulate its own blood glucose levels (this is usually for 12-48 hours). Your dog will have blood draws to closely monitor its liver enzymes. Your dog will have prompt gastric decontamination (induced vomiting) as long as the timing is right. The prognosis is good if the exposure is caught early, however if hepatic necrosis starts it can be very difficult to reverse the effects. It is always imperative that the exposed dog gets medical attention as soon as possible.
- Breanne, RVT at Allandale Veterinary Hospital