Artificial sweetener Xylitol has been on the market for some time now. Originally, it was only used in gums, but even that small market segment resulted in dogs being inadvertently poisoned.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, a "sugar free" sweetener produced from plums, raspberries, corn, or birch. It should be specifically listed on labels, but be cautious of any product that simply includes "sugar alcohol."
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Though Xylitol is generally safe for humans (it can have a laxative effect, as can many other artificial sweeteners), it can be deadly for dogs. As quickly as 30 minutes after being eaten, Xylitol causes a surge in release of insulin, resulting in a precipitous drop in blood sugar. As little as two sticks of Xylitol-sweetened gum can be fatal to a small dog.
Symptoms include weakness, depression (often seen as drowsiness), uncoordinated movement, vomiting, seizures, and coma. Immediate veterinary treatment is imperative. This is a true emergency.
Of course, mixed breeds are no more sensitive to Xylitol than purebreds, but there is a worry that owners of mixed breeds may not tend to belong to dog clubs or read club publications or dog magazines, from which they might learn about this hazard. Xylitol has been known to be highly toxic to dogs since 2004, but many dog owners are still surprised to hear about it.
And now there is an even greater risk because Xylitol's use has spread far beyond gum. Vitamins for human children, once recommended by veterinarians for dogs, now often contain Xylitol. Hard candies, bakery products, some medications, and many oral health products (toothpaste, mouthwash) include Xylitol. Do not use products for humans with your dog without careful scrutiny.
Treatment of Xylitol poisoning requires hospitalization and close monitoring to keep blood glucose levels up. Even if the dog survives the initial emergency, liver failure may ultimately result.
Be safe -- keep all sugary treats safely out of reach of dogs -- that includes purses and coat pockets. And only use products specifically formulated for use with canines. If you should be unfortunate enough to suffer a suspected poisoning, you can contact your own veterinarian or the ASPCA Pet Control Center.
Next time -- Traveling with a mixed breed