Tender Care Veterinary Center’s Toxicology Series: Xylitol–The Imposter Sugar

Sugar-free products are everywhere!  With so many people seeking sugar alternatives for their health, pharmacies and grocery stores are full of products that are sugar-free because they have substituted sugar with artificial sweeteners or the imposter sugar “Xylitol.” 

This carbohydrate is derived most often from birch trees and is considered a “sugar alcohol” but is very different from sugar from a chemistry perspective. [1]  Aside from providing a tasty substitution for sugar, xylitol has some added benefits for dental health, reduction of osteoporosis, and prevention of some inflammatory processes; ONLY FOR HUMANS.

For our pet companions, xylitol can be fatal.

Because the canine pancreas cannot differentiate that xylitol is not sugar, it releases insulin which causes a depletion of the glucose (sugar) circulating in the bloodstream.  Hypoglycemia symptoms can be seen as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion.  Liver organ necrosis (death of tissue) is another possible effect of xylitol ingestion and can be detected on bloodwork eight to twelve hours after ingestion.  And most concerningly, death has been reported as soon as 1 hour after ingestion.[2] 

Based on the severe (and possibly life threatening) effects, Tender Care Veterinary Center’s team recommends immediate examination and supportive care if a pet ingests ANY product with xylitol. 

Are there any exceptions?

There are some canine oral health supplements that contain xylitol at a very low level.  Some research supports the same benefits for canine oral health that are observed in humans.  Aquadent ® and Breathalyser by Ceva both have low levels of xylitol in them and, if packaging instructions are followed closely, there should be no adverse health changes. 

If you think your pet may have eaten a product with xylitol in it, please contact us immediately!

It is helpful if you can bring in the packaging so our veterinarians can see how much xylitol was ingested.  In most cases, it will be recommended to induce vomiting (to limit how much xylitol can be absorbed by the body) and to evaluate bloodwork to see if and by how much organ function has been affected.  Our veterinarian will make a plan with you and discuss your pets’ need for hospitalization with intravenous (IV) fluid support and continued monitoring. 

There are many products that contain ingredients that can be harmful or life-threatening to pets.  The ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline is available 24/7 for phone consultations by calling 1-855-764-7661 to answer any questions you may have about something your pet ingested.

[1] https://draxe.com/nutrition/xylitol/

[2] Veterinary Partner:  https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4952819