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The essentials

  • Xylitol is extremely dangerous for dogs — Even a tiny amount of the substance can trigger a sharp drop in blood sugar, liver failure, and possibly death.
  • The effects of xylitol present quickly — Dogs might show xylitol poisoning symptoms in as little as 10 minutes after ingestion.
  • Common household items may contain xylitol — The chemical is commonly seen in dental products, medications, and sugar-free goods.

Xylitol is a sweetener found in many common foods and household products. Dogs that ingest even a tiny amount of the substance can experience severe side effects — such as vomiting, seizures, and even death

No one likes to think about their pet being poisoned, but as dog owners, it’s important to familiarize ourselves with substances that are considered toxic to our best friends. Let’s take a look at products that commonly contain xylitol and ways potential poisoning can be treated.

👉 If your dog has ingested something containing xylitol, seek emergency veterinary care or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center right away.

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in many plants and fruits, including corn, oats , and birch trees. It’s often used as a substitute for sugar in sugar-free pantry items, as it’s lower in calories while still providing a sweet taste.

This makes it a popular choice for those on low-glucose diets, such as people with diabetes. Xylitol can even help fight plaque, which is why the substance is often found in dental products like mints and toothpaste.

Other names for xylitol

A product containing xylitol may not exactly have the word “xylitol” under its list of ingredients. Dog owners should also keep an eye out for other names the substance goes by, including:

  • Birch sugar
  • Wood sugar
  • Birch bark extract
  • Anhydroxylitol
  • Xylite
  • Xylit
  • Zylatol
  • Xlitol
  • Meso-xylitol
  • D-xylitol
  • Xylitylglucoside
  • E967
  • Xylo-pentane-1,2,3,4,5


Products containing xylitol

Xylitol is more common than people realize. While we can all expect our dogs to get into something they shouldn’t from time to time, it’s important to keep an eye out for products that contain this potentially lethal substance. Here’s a list of common household items that may contain xylitol:

  • Gum and mints. Each piece of sugar-free gum or mint contains around 0.22 to 1 gram of xylitol.
  • Toothpaste and other oral care products. Xylitol is beneficial for human teeth, especially when used with fluoride in toothpaste. Xylitol makes up about 5% to 25% of a typical tube of toothpaste. Other dental products that potentially contain the substance include mouthwash, dental floss, and breath freshener sprays.
  • Medications. Sugar-free vitamins often use xylitol to make them taste better. Owners should also be aware of the possible presence of xylitol in cough drops, melatonin, fast-dissolving tablets, nasal sprays, and prescription meds.
  • Sweetened processed foods. Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is lower in calories compared to sugar, which is why it has become an increasingly popular ingredient in store-bought foods such as pudding, baked goods, ice cream, jam, and peanut butter.
  • Beauty products. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want your dog to consume your shampoo or soap, and the potential for xylitol poisoning is one of them. Other products that may contain the substance include deodorant, moisturizer, and hair spray.

👉 For an exhaustive list of products that contain xylitol, visit the Pet Poison Helpline.

Why xylitol is toxic for dogs

While xylitol is safe for humans, the opposite is true for our pups. Why? To understand this reaction, we have to look at the chemical effects on your canine’s body.

Blood sugar is regulated by the release of insulin in the pancreas in both dogs and people. Dogs, however, quickly absorb xylitol into their bloodstream , causing their pancreas to rapidly release higher doses of insulin. This causes a quick, and in some cases, deadly drop in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia. Dogs may also experience liver failure as a result of xylitol ingestion.

🚨As little as 0.05 grams per pound of a dog’s body weight can lead to xylitol poisoning.

How xylitol affects other household pets

Owners who live in a multi-pet household may be wondering about the risk of their other little ones experiencing xylitol poisoning. Let’s take a look at how this sugar substitute can affect common pets:

  • Cats. Xylitol isn’t considered toxic to cats like it is to dogs, but caution should still be exercised to avoid a possible drop in blood sugar. That said, cats lack the taste receptors to process sweetness the same way as humans and dogs, so they likely won’t be too enticed by products containing the ingredient.
  • Ferrets. Xylitol is just as harmful to ferrets as it is to dogs. The pet is prone to low blood sugar and seizures, both of which they can experience after ingesting the substance.
  • Birds. Though data is limited, xylitol is considered toxic to birds because of their fast metabolism. Even a small amount can trigger adverse reactions.
  • Rabbits. Though they may exhibit symptoms to a lesser extent than dogs, rabbits are considered sensitive to xylitol.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs

It doesn’t take a lot of xylitol to induce low blood sugar and dangerous symptoms in canines, and signs of hypoglycemia can show up as quickly as 10 minutes after ingestion occurs.

Xylitol toxicity symptoms happen very quickly. They will start with vomiting and loss of coordination, then can rapidly progress to seizures and death if not treated.

Dr. Jennifer Schott

Here is a list of symptoms that dogs may exhibit from xylitol poisoning:

How canine xylitol poisoning is treated

First things first, if you suspect your dog has ingested any amount of xylitol, seek immediate veterinary care for the highest chance of recovery. 

Bring your veterinarian any product packaging you have available to help them determine how much of the substance your pup has in their system.

Your vet may induce vomiting (do not try this at home!), use intravenous fluids with dextrose to counteract the low glycemic index, and give medication to prevent liver damage. Your dog may be hospitalized overnight to monitor their blood glucose and liver function.

👉 Emergency vet visits may be covered by pet insurance — find out what is (and isn’t) included by reading our insurance coverage guide.

Prognosis of xylitol poisoning in dogs

Although it is considered a serious health condition, the outcome of xylitol-induced hyperglycemia is generally positive if treated early enough. “Dogs with hypoglycemia alone have an excellent prognosis with hospitalization and fluids to keep their blood sugar at a normal level,” says Dr. Schott. “Sometimes dogs need to be hospitalized for up to 24 hours. Dogs that develop liver failure or other secondary side effects have a more guarded prognosis, however, each case is different.”

Dogs experiencing less severe cases of liver failure will require prolonged treatment that includes administering fluids, colloid therapy, and diets rich in vitamins E and K. Some dogs may have a slow progression of the condition that will take years before serious symptoms take effect, while others with more severe cases will quickly deteriorate. End-of-life care can be administered to dogs experiencing liver injury to make them as comfortable as possible in their final days.

How to avoid xylitol poisoning in dogs

The best way to avoid xylitol poisoning in dogs is to feed your pup food made for dogs and keep risky items — like human food, dental products, and medications — out of reach or locked up. 

Here are other ways to protect your canine companion from xylitol —

Read food labels — Next time you’re at the grocery store or pharmacy, take a look at the list of ingredients on the product packaging. If something you’re eyeing contains xylitol, ask yourself if it will be easy to keep it away from your doggie back home.

Be vigilant when feeding your dog — Always consult your vet before introducing new foods to your dog, and only feed them safe human foods in moderation (unfortunately, that means no scraping dinner leftovers into the pup’s bowl). While it can be tempting to give in to a begging dog, it can also put them at severe risk.

👉 Everyone knows dogs love peanut butter, but did you know it can contain xylitol? Steer clear of reduced fat or sugar-free nut butters to avoid any accidental mix-ups when treating your favorite furball.

Keep items out of reach — If your curious doggie tends to try to sneak into the pantry or rummage through your purse, they could ingest sugar-free chewing gum, mints, cookies, or other items containing xylitol. Store any potentially hazardous household items out of paw’s reach to prevent any xylitol poisoning.

Only use canine toothpaste — Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly can prevent dental problems and eliminate the need for costly extractions during professional cleanings. But, it can also harm your dog if you use human toothpaste instead of one geared towards dogs. 

Train your dog to “leave it” — Street litter is one of the greatest areas of risk for xylitol poisoning, as many wrappers you find along the paths are for fast food or sweet treats that xylitol can hide in. Keep a sharp eye out for dangerous items on the ground — like a piece of gum or discarded baked goods — and train your dog to obey a “leave it” command if they try to scavenge.

Reporting safety issues to the FDA

When it comes to keeping our pets safe, it takes a village! Owners can report any adverse reactions their pet has with a product to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Safety Reporting Portal. Each report will be evaluated by the organization to determine the severity of the problem, and whether it warrants looking into the product.

Many stresses come with being a dog parent, and keeping them safe from potentially lethal substances is one of them. As long as you take steps to keep your furry friend away from xylitol-containing products, you can rest assured they won’t be poisoned by it anytime soon.

 In the event of poisoning or supposed poisoning, take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. They can offer lifesaving care and may be able to intervene before your dog experiences liver failure or death.

Frequently asked questions

How much xylitol can a dog have?

Dogs should never have xylitol, as they can get xylitol poisoning from as little as 0.05 grams per pound of body weight of the substance.

What foods contain xylitol?

Xylitol is often found in sugar-free sweets like baked goods, ice cream, sugarless gum, and reduced-fat peanut butter. It is lower in calories than sugar, making it a popular substitute for diet-friendly or sugar-free foods.

How long does it take for xylitol poisoning to take effect in dogs?

Dogs can begin exhibiting symptoms from xylitol poisoning as quickly as 10 minutes after ingesting the substance. In some cases, they may not show clinical signs for eight to twelve hours.

How to know if my dog has xylitol poisoning?

If you are unsure if your dog has ingested xylitol, look out for possible symptoms of ingestion — like vomiting, lethargy, collapsing, and seizures. In addition to these side effects, they may experience jaundice or diarrhea if they have liver failure.

How is xylitol poisoning treated in dogs?

A veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent the substance from absorbing in their blood (though this should not be done at home). They will likely be hospitalized overnight to monitor and maintain their hydration and blood sugar levels.