Health and Nutrition

XYLITOL: Danger or Delight for Dogs?

– By Sandy Schneider

What is “xylitol”? Xylitol is a white crystal substance that looks and tastes like sugar. On food labels for people, xylitol is broadly classified as a carbohydrate.

For the purposes of human consumption, xylitol is very slowly absorbed and only partially utilized. These two characteristics contrast sharply to sugar. Because xylitol contains about 2.4 calories per gram, or 40% less than other carbohydrates, it has earned an official “reduced calorie” status.

Where people are concerned, the United States has approved xylitol as a food additive in unlimited quantity for foods with special dietary purposes. More than 25 years of testing with humans confirm that xylitol is the best sweetener for teeth. Xylitol is described as a natural, safe, convenient, and effective substance for tooth decay prevention for people.

Xylitol is found in “sugar free” chewing gums, candies, and mints, as well as in a variety of other foods made with sugar substitutes. Some toothpastes, chewable vitamins, and throat lozenges are also now being made with xylitol. Moreover, products sweetened with xylitol have received endorsements from six national dental associations.

However, while xylitol may be wonderful for people, it is DEADLY FOR DOGS.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which causes a dramatic spike in the glucose (blood sugar) levels when ingested by dogs. The resulting insulin surge in dogs causes a markedly dangerous drop in blood sugar. This triggers such symptoms as weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, collapse, and seizures. These symptoms can develop within 30 minutes. Immediate emergency veterinary treatment is needed if the dog is to survive.

Xylitol also seems to cause severe liver damage in dogs within 24 hours of ingestion if they survive that long.

Just 3 grams of xylitol can prove lethal to a 65 pound dog. This amount of xylitol could be found in 8 to 10 sticks of gum, depending on the brand. Of course, a much smaller amount of xylitol can be fatal for a toy breed, such as the average-sized Bichon breed; perhaps as few as one or two sticks of gum could claim the life of such a small dog.

As responsible “parents” of Bichon breed members, we need to be aware of the lethal effects of xylitol. We must also take the necessary actions to prevent our little pals from ever having access to xylitol.

Please note that due to the positive effects that xylitol has on humans, an increasing number of “sugar free” food products are being made with it. With this in mind, become a diligent food label reader. Always “play it safe,” and avoid sharing even tiny tastes of your “sugar free” foods with your little buddy. Also make it a habit to carry “sugar free” gum, mints, candies, throat lozenges, and chewable vitamins in doggie-proof containers. (For example, enclose such items in “child-proof containers, such as clean, empty medicine containers and carry them in an enclosed portion of your purse or briefcase).

Be aware that dogs possess a natural “sweet tooth.” Sniffing out, finding, and getting into “sweet tasting stuff” comes naturally to our little Bichon breeds! So stay alert! Many of our furry pals are excellent “pick pockets,” and most are “opportunists.” Given the opportunity to enjoy a tasty morsel, they will seize it. If a purse is accessible, most doggies will help themselves to any sweet treats that are available.

It is up to us to keep such items safely stored and out of reach. This also means to stay vigilant when visiting with our little furry family members in the homes of others, as well as when guests come to call at our homes! The purses and jackets of our friends may contain readily accessible items with xylitol.

In summary, although xylitol has many proven benefits for humans, it is DEADLY FOR DOGS!!! (Please share this information with others!!!) Diligently read food labels. Keep questionable items securely packaged and out of reach. Don’t share any kind of diet/ ‘sugar free’ foods with your Bichon breed buddy. Be extra vigilant when guests come and when visiting others. The lives of our little ones may depend upon it.

About the Author: Sandy Schneider, author, is a devoted dog mom. Agility, grooming, obedience, and just plain having fun with her dogs are her passion. She operates Bichon World and invites you to visit the site for great information and articles.

Note: This section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.

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