Xylitol poisoning is commonly seen overseas in places like Europe, Scandinavia and the USA. Unfortunately, it is not well known by the public in South Africa. There aren’t always warnings on the labels of Xylitol products which are growing in popularity in South Africa. The main problem with this is that because it’s safe for humans, pet parents may unknowingly give it to their pooch which can cause severe poisoning in them.;

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a very popular sugar substitute. It is a natural substance extracted from vegetation such as corn fibre, birch trees, hardwood trees and others; and from fruits, vegetables and fungi such as berries, plums, oats, mushrooms and lettuce. It is a white powder but it can also be bought as a compound that resembles sugar in a granulated form. Its popularity comes from being low in calories, having a low glycaemic index, being good for people with diabetes and good for human oral health. It is used as a sugar replacement in tea, coffee and baking. It is also found in many products such as chewing gum, candy, breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, children’s vitamins, toothpaste, mouth wash and more. It is extremely safe in humans, but extremely poisonous to your dog. In fact, it is far more dangerous to your beloved dog than chocolate.

How does it cause poisoning?

Xylitol is toxic to your dog and is rapidly and completely absorbed in dogs. It can cause hypoglycaemia, (low blood glucose), seizures, liver failure, coma and even death. Doses of around 100mg of Xylitol per 1kg dog weight can cause hypoglycaemia. Symptoms can start in as little as 30 minutes. Hypoglycaemia is caused by Xylitol being quickly absorbed into the bloodstream resulting in potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This rapid release of insulin causes a severe hypoglycaemia. If left untreated it can be fatal. Very high doses of Xylitol, around 500mg per 1 kg of dog weight can cause liver failure and a bleeding / blood clotting disorder.

Symptoms of Xylitol poisoning?

Some symptoms that your dog may present with may include vomiting, lethargy, difficulty walking or standing (in-coordination), tremors, seizures or coma.

How do I know when a product contains Xylitol?

Checking the product’s label for Xylitol in the ingredients is a clear indication of its contents. But a faster way is understanding what the advertising on the product actually means. A product may contain Xylitol if it contains these buzz words: sugar free, reduced sugar, no added sugar, all natural sugar, no artificial sweeteners, naturally sweetened, 100% natural, safe for diabetics, aspartame free, sweetened with birch sugar, low carbohydrate, low calorie, helps fight calories, prevents tooth decay.

How is Xylitol poisoning treated?

It is not advised to induce vomiting at home if your dog has eaten Xylitol, especially if already showing clinical signs of poisoning as it may make the hypoglycaemia worse. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Your dog’s vet may induce vomiting if the Xylitol was recently eaten in order to prevent further absorption. There is no antidote for Xylitol poisoning. Your pooch’s vet will treat symptomatically such as using IV fluids, IV glucose or dextrose and any other supportive care that may be needed. In some cases, this may include preventative liver supplement treatment. Prognosis is good if the amount of Xylitol eaten is small and your dog is only suffering from hypoglycaemia, as this condition is reversible. If large amounts are eaten and your dog develops liver failure, the prognosis is guarded. If it’s an emergency and you suspect hypoglycaemia, you can try and give your dog honey water or syrup water under their tongue while you try and get your precious dog to the vet. If severely affected your dog will need intravenous treatment.

How do I prevent Xylitol poisoning?

Be careful where you leave your handbag. Don’t leave it lying around where your dog may get to it and eat your chewing gum. Don’t give your dog baked goods if you are using Xylitol as a sugar replacement. Don’t use human toothpaste to brush your pooch’s teeth. Check the ingredients of the products you buy for which of them contain Xylitol and keep them away from your pets. Even though cats are less likely to eat these substances, it may be possible to cause poisoning in them too. Pet parents who are diabetic, watching their diets or simply buying chewing gum must take extra care to watch their pets carefully and make sure they don’t get hold of the products.

The best thing to do is to is to ensure edible products are kept away from your precious pets. Items such as toothpaste and chewing gum should not be left on a counter where your fur kids may get to them. All pet parents should be aware of the harmful and deadly effects that Xylitol can have on their pets and always have an emergency vet contact number handy just in case.

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