What’s So Dangerous About Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs?

xylitol poisoning in dogs
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Xylitol is a sugar substitute that you can find in many foods and products. But while it’s OK for humans, xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.

Even small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or even death in dogs. The higher the amount your dog eats, the greater the risk of liver failure complications.

So today I want to talk about xylitol poisoning in dogs. Why is xylitol so bad for your dog and what can you do if your dog eats it?

Where Xylitol Is Hiding

Xylitol’s popularity has increased dramatically in the last few years. Manufacturers usually extract xylitol, (also called birch sugar) from birch trees, corn fiber, hardwoods and other vegetable matter. It’s then made into a white powder that looks and tastes like sugar. It’s about as sweet as sucrose but contains about half the calories, and it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes.

The most common source of xylitol poisoning reported to the Pet Poison Helpline is sugar-free gum. But as xylitol is becoming more popular and is in more and more foods, we all have to be on alert. Many dogs find these foods appetizing and many of our best friends practice the art of stealth food burglary.

References

Piscitelli CM, Dunayer EK, Aumann M. Xylitol toxicity in dogs. Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2010 Feb;32(2):E1-4; quiz E4.

 

Other Places Xylitol Is Hiding In Your Home

  • Drink powders
  • Cough drops and syrups
  • Instant coffee
  • BBQ sauce and ketchup
  • Vitamins
  • Candy and chocolates
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Chewing gum and mints
  • Peanut butter, jam, pancake syrup
  • Pudding

Here’s a list of more than 700 products that contain xylitol … 

Read ingredient labels carefully and don’t leave products with xylitol in your dog’s reach. Xylitol may also show on ingredient labels as birch sugar, so look out for that too.

Why Xylitol Is Bad For Your Dog

Xylitol doesn’t stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas in humans. But in dogs it’s a different story.

When a dog eats something containing xylitol, it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This rapid release of insulin results in a profound drop in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia). And it can happen within 10 to 60 minutes of ingestion. Untreated, this hypoglycemia is often life-threatening.

Worst of all … there’s no antidote for xylitol toxicity.

Can A Dog Recover From Xylitol Poisoning?

A dog’s ability to recover from xylitol poisoning depends on how long it takes to treat him. The prognosis is good if you treat your dog before symptoms develop. It’s also good for dogs who develop uncomplicated hypoglycemia that’s reversed rapidly. But if liver failure or a bleeding disorder develops, the prognosis is generally poor. Most dogs who develop liver problems don’t make it.

Symptoms Of Xylitol Poisoning In Dogs 

Signs of xylitol poisoning in dogs include: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Lethargy 
  • Depression 
  • Weakness
  • Staggering 
  • Loss of Coordination 
  • Seizures

Glutathione To The Rescue

The first and most important thing to do is get your dog to the vet for glutathione. I’ll discuss that in more detail in a bit. But first, what is glutathione?

Glutathione is an antioxidant that exists in every cell. It protects the cell’s tiny but important engines called mitochondria. This little protein contains three amino acids and is the king of all antioxidants in the body. Without it, cells would disintegrate from unrestrained oxidation. 

Glutathione is the most important, abundant, active and powerful of the antioxidants. Doctors call it the master antioxidant. That’s because all other antioxidants depend on glutathione to function properly. 

Over-the-counter antioxidants wouldn’t work without the glutathione created in your dog’s cells. More familiar antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, have short life spans. Glutathione has the ability to bring back spent antioxidants from the dead and even recharge itself.

The body’s organs can heal themselves with a little help from their friends (in this case, glutathione). 

When your dog is poisoned with xylitol, glutathione can help protect the liver. (If you remember, liver failure is a major contributor to poor prognoses.) The highest level of glutathione exists in the liver. It’s no accident that the liver is the major organ of detoxification and desperately needs its glutathione to stay healthy.

RELATED:  Find out how to boost glutathione in dogs … 

The Way You Deliver Glutathione Matters

As I said earlier, you need to get your dog to the vet for glutathione. But the thing about glutathione is that it’s very poorly absorbed when taken orally. And when there’s no time to waste, that’s a huge problem.

Case Example

A dog was disintegrating from unrestrained oxidation. He had to get glutathione to quickly protect and regenerate his necrotic liver.  The dog’s owner ran to a compounding pharmacist. They made up a form of glutathione to give to the dog by intramuscular injection. The emergency service in the hospital agreed to give it.

The change was dramatic. The patient perked up and his liver enzymes began to go down. We also put him on several homeopathic remedies for the liver, including …

  • Aesculus
  • Ptelia
  • Chelidonium
  • Phosphorus

Caution: It’s important to note that this patient was initially given glutathione orally, as is standard treatment. But there was a strong possibility it wouldn’t have worked. That’s because the precursors convert into glutathione in the liver. 

But his liver was in a double bind because its own cells were rotting and dying. The liver needed glutathione to repair itself but the liver was too sick. It wouldn’t have been able to convert the precursors the dog had orally. That’s why your dog needs glutathione intramuscularly. It can also be administered intravenously, but the dose was all the way in California … and there was no time to wait for shipment!

After The Treatment For Xylitol Poisoning

Soon after treatment, the patient went home and was eating on his own and beginning to enjoy his walks again.

His liver levels were normal but he still had elevated kidney levels, meaning he was too acidic. Both the kidneys and liver work much more efficiently in an alkaline environment (up to 40 times more efficiently). The patient went on a vitamin C Intravenous drip to create alkalinity in his body … and his kidneys responded and healed.

Xylitol is becoming more and more common in foods. We should all remember glutathione in case of emergency. Most compounding pharmacies can prepare this for you as an intramuscular solution that you can take to your vet. 

But because prevention is the best medicine, I recommend storing items made with xylitol (or birch sugar) in a dog-proof location. After all, our canine friends love a delicious cupcake just as much as we do!

Sharon M Gwaltney-Brent DVM PhD, DABVT, DABT. Xylitol Toxicosis in Dogs. Merck Vet Manual, July 2021.

Piscitelli CM, Dunayer EK, Aumann M. Xylitol toxicity in dogs. Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2010 Feb;32(2):E1-4; quiz E4. 

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