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dog parent must-knows
Xylitol poisoning in dogs

Essentials

  • Xylitol is dangerous for dogs — While xylitol is safe for you to eat, it’s far from safe for your dog. Xylitol is incredibly toxic to dogs.
  • Xylitol’s effects emerge quickly — A small amount of xylitol can lead to poisoning in as little as 10 minutes.
  • Common household items can contain xylitol — Pet owners need to know which household staples may contain xylitol, how to keep these things out of reach from curious dogs, and what to do in case a pup accidentally ingests them.

Your peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for lunch, the tasty ice cream you have for dessert, the breath mints in your purse, the gummy vitamins on your counter — all of these items may contain the sweetener xylitol.

👉 If your dog ingests something containing xylitol, contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.

What is xylitol?

Xylitol, sometimes called “birch sugar,” is a sweet substance found in many plants and fruits, including corn, oats, and plums. It’s often used as a substitute for sugar, and it’s becoming popular in human products because it adds sweetness but has fewer calories than sugar. It even has plaque-fighting properties, making it ideal for dental items like mints and toothpaste. Xylitol looks a lot like sugar in its white, powdery form after manufacturing.

Products containing xylitol

Many products you use every day contain xylitol, including:

  • Gum/mints. Each piece of sugar-free gum or mint has about 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 35% of a typical tube of toothpaste.
  • Gummy vitamins. Sugar-free vitamins often use xylitol to make them taste better.
  • Over-the-counter medications. In recent years, xylitol is becoming common in medications, especially fast-dissolving tablets and liquid medicines.
  • Sweetened processed foods. Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is lower in calories compared to sugar, which is why it’s an increasingly popular ingredient in store-bought sweets such as pudding, baked goods, ice cream, and peanut butter.

Why it’s toxic for dogs

While xylitol is a common sugar substitute that is safe for humans, it is incredibly dangerous for dogs. In people, this ingredient does not trigger the pancreas to release insulin. However, dogs quickly absorb xylitol into their bloodstream , causing their pancreas to rapidly release a potent amount of insulin. This causes a quick — and in some cases deadly — drop in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia. Xylitol-induced hypoglycemia takes about 30 minutes, on average, to show symptoms but can range from as little as 10 minutes to an hour.

👉As little as 0.05 grams per pound of body weight can cause xylitol poisoning.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs

Even small amounts of xylitol can induce low blood sugar and dangerous symptoms in dogs, and it only takes about 30 minutes after ingestion for poisoning to take effect. With immediate vet care, most dogs do recover but may suffer long-term effects including seizures, liver failure, or brain damage. In some cases, xylitol poisoning can be deadly.

Dogs may show the following symptoms shortly after eating xylitol:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of coordination or staggered walking
  • Collapsing
  • Seizures

How to avoid xylitol poisoning

The best way to avoid xylitol poisoning in dogs is to feed your pup food made for dogs (no scraping dinner leftovers into the dog’s food bowl!) and keep risky items, like human food, medications, and cleaners, out of reach or locked up. Here are some additional tips.

Check food labels — Pet parents love to share snacks with their pets. While you check for ingredients that aren’t safe for dogs, look closely for hidden ingredients like xylitol as well.

Don’t feed Fido from your plate — It’s tempting to give in to those big, brown puppy eyes and feed your pup a little food from your plate. However, if you’re eating processed foods, especially sweets, they may contain xylitol.

Store food and other items out of reach — If your curious doggie tends to try to sneak into the pantry or rummage through your purse, they could eat gum, mints, cookies, or other items containing xylitol. Make sure to store foods, medications, oral care products, and other potentially hazardous household products out of reach or lock them up to prevent any accidental xylitol ingestion.

How is xylitol poisoning treated?

Your dog will need immediate veterinary treatment for the highest chance of recovering from xylitol poisoning. The vet may use apomorphine to induce vomiting and prevent your dog from further absorbing the xylitol in their blood. The vet will likely also use intravenous fluids or medications to protect the liver, as liver failure can occur from xylitol poisoning.

Your dog will likely need blood tests and undergo monitoring to make sure blood glucose and liver function return to normal. Do not try to induce vomiting at home for suspected xylitol poisoning unless a vet tells you to. Emergency vet visits may be covered by pet insurance — if your pet isn’t covered, get your quote based on your pet’s breed, age, and location at Fetch by the Dodo.

Frequently asked questions 

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

On average, dogs show signs of xylitol poisoning, such as vomiting, weakness, or seizures, within 30 minutes of ingesting xylitol. If your dog ingests xylitol, get them to a veterinarian immediately for treatment.

Can dogs recover from xylitol poisoning?

Dogs typically recover from xylitol poisoning but will require veterinary care and close monitoring to get to good health. It’s best not to risk xylitol poisoning — keep foods with this ingredient far out of your pup’s reach because it can lead to liver failure, seizures, brain damage, or death.

Is peanut butter OK for dogs to eat?

Peanut butter is a great treat for dogs in moderation, but you’ll need to check the ingredients on the label before sharing your favorite peanut butter with your dog. Make sure to only give your dog peanut butter that doesn’t contain xylitol. Peanut butter labeled as “sugar-free” may be an indicator that it contains xylitol.