Xylitol, also known as birch sugar, is a naturally occurring substance that is widely used as a sugar substitute, and can be found in a variety of foods, oral-care products. deodorants, and lip balms. Xylitol provides many benefits to humans, but is extremely toxic to dogs, and can be life-threatening if ingested. Our team at Palm Valley Veterinary Center has the information you need to protect your dog from this harmful ingredient. 

How does xylitol benefit people?

Sugar overconsumption is associated with many diseases, including chronic inflammatory diseases, diabetes, and obesity, which has led to the popularity of sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol. Xylitol provides a variety of health benefits for people, including:

  • Weight management  — Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar, but contains 40% fewer calories. 
  • Blood sugar and insulin levels — Xylitol does not contain fructose, so has a low glycemic index, and doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin. For people with diabetes and other metabolic issues, xylitol is an excellent sugar alternative.
  • Oral health — Xylitol can improve dental health by minimizing plaque buildup, reducing gingival inflammation, promoting saliva production, and preventing dental cavities. 
  • Ear health — Studies indicate that xylitol products such as chewing gum, nasal spray, and syrup can help prevent ear infections. 

What products contain xylitol?

Xylitol’s popularity has led to a huge increase in products that contain the ingredient. These include:

  • Sugar-free food and candy — Gum, mints, peanut butter, ice cream, pudding snacks, and baked goods
  • Oral hygiene products — Toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Medications — Nasal sprays, allergy medicines, cough syrup, and lozenges
  • Vitamins and supplements — Chewable or gummy vitamins, and supplements
  • Personal hygiene products — Deodorant, hair care products, and cosmetics

The only way to know for sure whether a product contains xylitol is by carefully reading the ingredient list. Look also for xylitol’s additional names (i.e., birch sugar, sugar alcohol) and “naturally sweetened” products.

Why is xylitol dangerous to dogs but not people?

Xylitol is one of many foods that are safe for people and harmful to pets. Blood sugar levels are controlled by insulin release from the pancreas in people and pets. However, xylitol does not stimulate insulin release in humans, but dogs have an extreme response—their bodies release too much insulin, causing their blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low (i.e., hypoglycemia). Without prompt medical attention, hypoglycemia can become life-threatening. 

Is xylitol toxic for cats?

Xylitol does not appear to have the same blood-sugar lowering toxic effect in cats, who do not have the receptors (i.e., taste buds) to detect sweetness, so sweet-tasting foods are less appealing. However, you should best err on the side of caution and keep all xylitol-containing products out of all your pets’ reach. 

What are xylitol toxicity signs in dogs?

Early xylitol poisoning signs are typically caused by low blood sugar (i.e., hypoglycemia) and can develop 30 minutes after ingestion. Low blood sugar signs may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination, or difficulty walking or standing
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Seizures 

If you suspect your dog has eaten a product that may contain xylitol, you must get treatment as quickly as possible. Contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately. Do not induce vomiting yourself without your veterinarian’s specific instructions.

How is xylitol toxicity treated in dogs?

If your dog is not showing toxic signs and the ingestion was recent, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption. However, most dogs with xylitol toxicity require hospitalization for blood glucose monitoring, dextrose (i.e., a simple sugar administered to raise blood sugar), intravenous fluids, liver function monitoring, and any other supportive care, until their blood glucose stabilizes. Dogs who are treated before toxicity signs develop and have not sustained liver damage should recover completely from xylitol-induced hypoglycemia. Unfortunately, dogs with liver failure have a less optimistic prognosis and will need life-long management. 

How can I protect my dog from xylitol?

Once you know the dangers of xylitol for your dog, you can take the following precautions: 

  • Kitchen products — Securely store products that contain xylitol out of your dog’s—and cat’s—reach.
  • Bathroom products — Ensure your dog’s toothpaste is specifically designed for pets. Most human toothpastes contain xylitol and fluoride. 
  • People food — Read the ingredient list before feeding any people food, such as peanut butter, to your dog, to ensure the item does not contain xylitol. 
  • Snacks — Hang up purses and backpacks to keep your dog from getting into mints or sugar-free gum inside. 

If you suspect your dog has ingested a product that may contain xylitol, contact our team at Palm Valley Veterinary Center immediately, so we can determine what care they need.