Sugar Substitute May be Good for Your Diet, but Deadly for Your Dog

It's hard to resist those adoreable eyes, but giving hidden sugar substitutes can cause major health problems for man's best friend

Sugar Substitute May be Good for Your Diet, but Deadly for Your Dog
Image: Pixabay
May 12, 2016

Using sugar-free sweeteners might be an effective way to cut sugar from your diet, but they can be a danger to your dog.

Xylitol, in particular, is especially hazardous with animal welfare groups warning that even a small amount of the sweetener can have lethal effects.

The ASPCA included the substance on its list of foods toxic to dogs because it can cause insulin release that leads to lowered sugar levels. Low sugar levels can eventually cause liver damage. "Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination," writes the ASPCA. "Signs can progress to seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days."

Xylitol is said to be 100 times more toxic for dogs that chocolate and only 50 milligrams per pound of body weight is enough to make your dog sick. For perspective, that means only one or two pieces of gum is enough to make a small dog sick.

The sugar-free ingredient is commonly found in sugarless gum, but its use in other products, which may or may not be sold as sugar-free. Xylitol is also found in breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, chewable vitamins, mouthwash and toothpaste.

While dogs shouldn't be eating candy of any variety, many owners spoil their pups with a little peanut butter. A growing number of peanut butter brands are making the switch from sugar to xylitol so pet owners should check the ingredients before sharing a spoonful with your pet.

Unsurprisingly, as the number of products that include xylitol increases, so are the calls to the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center. Last year the group fielded more than 3,700 calls related to xylitol, compared to 82 in 2004 and 300 in 2009. This year there have been 2,800 calls.

Anyone with a dog can tell you that they're constantly on the hunt for a treat. For that reason, dog owners should take extra care when storing a product that includes xylitol. These foods should be stored in high cabinets or shelves, out of paw's reach. Precautions should be made for even the most well-behaved pup.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the first symptom of xylitol poisoning is vomiting. Symptoms of lowered blood sugar will follow, including decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures. Hypoglycemia and other serious effects of xylitol poisoning may not show up for 12 to 24 hours.

If you believe your dog has ingested a food containing xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Helped by their finicky food preferences, cats seem to have gotten a pass on this one. The FDA says that the toxicity of xylitol in cats hasn't been determined.