Xylitol (sugar-free gum) Toxicity

Xylitol Toxicity

By Dr. Karen Burgess

Xylitol is a little considered sweetener found in several brands of chewing gum that is highly toxic to dogs. Over the last few years its popularity has increased thus causing increased risk of exposure.

What is xylitol?
Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar, is found in corn, plums, berries, lettuce, oats, mushrooms, and various trees. Once manufactured, the white powder produced is very similar to sugar in its appearance and taste. Containing a third of the calories of traditional sugar, xylitol is preferential for diabetic humans. Once processed, xylitol is a white powder that looks and tastes similar to sugar and has been proven to actually decrease cavity formation in humans. All of these positives for humans has increased the popularity of xylitol in the marketplace over the last several years.

What products contain xylitol?
The most common and easily accessible xylitol containing products include Ice Breakers, Orbit, Stride and Trident chewing gums. Other sources include diabetic candies, baking additives, Jell-O sugar free pudding, children’s vitamins, nasal sprays, and over the counter medications such as children’s Allegra.

What problems does xylitol cause in dogs?
Severe and sudden drops in blood sugar, liver failure, seizures, and death can all occur from xylitol ingestion in dogs. In humans xylitol does not cause release of insulin. However in dogs, it is a potent stimulator of insulin release from the pancreas which leads to a rapid and severe drop in blood sugar levels. This low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia) can quickly become a life threatening situation. High doses of ingestion can also lead to liver failure for yet unknown reasons, often 2-3 days after ingestion. Pets that experience this condition do not always show signs of low blood sugar initially making follow up monitoring very important.

How much xylitol does it take to cause problems?
The toxicity concerns begin at 50 mg/pound of dog. While different brands contain diiferent amounts of xylitol, the typical range is 300 to 1500 mg/piece of gum. This means a 20lb dog can experience toxicity after ingesting just one piece of gum containing 1000 mg. As one can imagine, the scenario is even worse for smaller dogs. Liver failure becomes a concern at a dose of approximately 2000 mg/pound.

Signs of xylitol toxicity
Common signs of hypoglycemia, which may develop in as few as 15 minutes, include vomiting, walking as if drunk/weakness, depression, tremors/seizures, and coma.

What to do if your pet ingests xylitol
Contact your veterinarian, animal emergency hospital, or animal poison control immediately. Do not induce vomiting unless under the direction of a veterinarian as this may worsen developing hypoglycemia. If clinical signs are apparent hospitalization, laboratory work, and treatment for low blood sugar will likely be indicated for a minimum of 24 hours. Follow up laboratory work will help determine whether damage has also occurred to the liver. Prognosis is good if caught early before symptoms develop or with only mild signs. Pets that develop coma or liver failure carry a poor prognosis for survival.

  • Ice Breakers: 1-1.5g/piece
  • Orbit: 9.2mg/piece or none at all
  • Orbit Strawberry mint: 317mg/piece
  • Stride: 185mg/piece
  • Trident (regular): 0.22g/piece
  • Trident (Xtracare): 0.28g/piece