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  • Writer's pictureJulie Reisinger, RVT, LATg

Xylitol: A Hidden Danger for Dogs

There are many common foods, plants, and household items that can be detrimental to your dog’s health. Some of these items have been general knowledge for quite a while, such as chocolate, onions, and antifreeze. But there is one lesser-known food additive that can be potentially fatal for dogs: Xylitol.

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is found in some fruits, such as berries and plums, as well as mushrooms, corn, oats, lettuce, and trees. For commercial uses, it is most commonly extracted from corn fiber and birch trees, and can be listed in a product’s ingredients as xylitol, birch sugar, or wood sugar. It is used as a sugar substitute in many foods, gums, and dental products, and seems to be popping up in more and more products due to its low glycemic index and apparent dental plaque fighting properties.

It may sound strange, but some dogs really, REALLY like to eat toothpaste

Why is it so serious for dogs*?

According to the FDA, “When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This rapid release of insulin may result in a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an effect that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the xylitol.” If untreated, hypoglycemia can quickly become fatal.

*A note to pet owners: Most other pets do not have the same sensitivity to xylitol as dogs do. Ferrets have been known to develop low blood sugar and seizures after consuming xylitol. Cats tend to avoid sweets, so they are less likely to ingest it in the first place, but you should still keep these items away from pets whenever possible.

The best peanut butter for your dog is one made with a single ingredient: peanuts

Where is xylitol found?

Here’s a brief list of common food and household items that can contain xylitol:

  • Peanut butter and other nut butters - this one is first because it is the most likely to be given to dogs by their owners. It is not found in all peanut/nut butters, so make sure to check the label before giving it.

  • Sugar free gums, mints, and candies

  • Sugar free baked goods and desserts (like pies, cookies, and ice cream)

  • Dietary supplements and vitamins (especially the gummy and chewable ones)

  • Cough syrups and other over-the-counter medications

  • Mouthwash, floss, and toothpaste

  • Condiments such as: ketchup, barbeque sauce, and pancake syrup

  • Personal care items like makeup, lip balm, deodorant, baby wipes, and sunscreen

The easiest way to avoid issues is to not buy items containing xylitol. However, that is easier said than done, especially if you have a health reason that requires you to use sugar free products, or if it’s a product you wouldn’t expect to have sugar/sugar substitutes or think your dog would want to eat (like deodorant). In these cases, make sure that your dog does not have access to these items by putting them in a drawer, on a high shelf, or in a pantry with a door your dog can’t open. Your dog should not have regular access to any non-food items, such as medications or toothpaste, but we all know that a determined dog can surprise us, so keep your dog out of areas with these items when you are not able to watch them.

Sugar free baked goods are tempting - and potentially dangerous - for your pup

What are the signs of xylitol poisoning?

According to VCA Hospitals, “initial signs of xylitol poisoning are typically due to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and can develop within an hour of consumption. Signs of low blood sugar may include any or all of the following:

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

  • Lack of coordination or difficulty walking or standing

  • Weakness/sluggishness or lethargy

  • Tremors

  • Seizures

  • Coma

In severe cases, the dog may develop seizures or liver failure. Dogs that develop liver failure from xylitol poisoning may or may not show signs of hypoglycemia first.”

What should I do if I think my dog ate something with xylitol in it?

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any poisonous substances, contact your veterinarian or call Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 888-426-4435 immediately. Toxic effects can be reversed (and prevented) with immediate treatment from your vet. If your dog has not yet begun to show symptoms, your vet may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption into the blood, but more blood work will be required to determine further treatments. In all cases, your dog’s blood glucose will need to be closely monitored, and will likely require supportive care, such as IV fluids and/or treatment with dextrose. Should liver failure develop, long term treatment may be needed and prognosis is generally guarded. The good news is, if caught and treated before severe symptoms develop, your dog should recover just fine.

For more information about xylitol and its effects, check out these resources that were used in the writing of this article:

To print or download a copy of this poster, click the FDA link to the left

Check out our other health-related blog posts, including topics such as Bloat and Separation Anxiety, by clicking here. Subscribe to our blog at the bottom of this page and never miss a new post!


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