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Dog Owner Alert Email - Xylitol Sweetener Toxic to Dogs

Summary:
Email forward claims that dogs can become critically ill or die after eating sugar-free gum or other products that contain the sweetener xylitol (Full commentary below).



Status:
True

Example:(Submitted, November 2006)
Subject: Fwd: dogowner alert: Please learn from my nightmare and pass this on to everyone you can.

Last Friday evening, I arrived home from work, fed Chloe, our 24 Lb. dachshund, just as I normally do. Ten minutes later I walked into the den just in time to see her head inside the pocket of Katie's friend's purse. She had a guilty look on her face so I looked closer and saw a small package of sugar-free gum. It contained xylitol. I remembered that I had recently read that sugar-free gum can be deadly for dogs so I jumped on line and looked to see if xylitol was the ingredient. I found the first website below and it was the one. Next, I called our vet. She said to bring her in immediately. Unfortunately, it was still rush hour and it took me almost 1/2 hour to get there. Meanwhile, since this was her first case, our vet found another website to figure out the treatment. She took Chloe and said they would induce her to vomit, give her a charcoal drink to absorb the toxin (even though they don't think it works) then they would start an iv with dextrose. The xylitol causes dogs to secrete insulin so their blood sugar drops very quickly. The second thing that happens is liver failure. If that happens, even with aggressive treatment, it can be difficult to save them. She told us she would call us.

Almost two hours later, the vet called and said that contents of her stomach contained 2-3 gum wrappers and that her blood sugar had dropped from 90 to 59 in 30 minutes. She wanted us to take Chloe to another hospital that has a critical care unit operating around the clock. We picked her up and took her there. They had us call the ASPCA poison control for a case number and for a donation, their doctors would direct Chloe's doctor on treatment. They would continue the iv, monitor her blood every other hour and then in 2 days test her liver function. She ended up with a central line in her jugular vein since the one in her leg collapsed, just as our regular vet had feared.

Chloe spent almost the entire weekend in the critical care hospital. After her blood sugar was stabilized, she came home yesterday. They ran all the tests again before they released her and so far, no sign of liver damage. Had I not seen her head in the purse, she probably would have died and we wouldn't even had known why.

Three vets told me this weekend, that they were amazed that I even knew about it since they are first learning about it too. Please tell everyone you know about xylitol and dogs. It may save another life.

http://www.avma.org/press/releases/061001_xylitol.asp




Commentary:
This email forward relates the story of a dachshund named Chloe who became severely ill after eating sugar-free gum that contained xylitol sweetener. At this point, I cannot say for sure if the story describes an actual event or if Chloe is a real dog. Authors of warning emails like this sometimes create a cover story to drive home the core points in their message and add a human (or canine) element. However, the claim that xylitol can be toxic to dogs is certainly true.

An October 2006 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Press Release confirms that xylitol can be highly dangerous for dogs:
While veterinarians have suspected that the sugar substitute xylitol can make dogs sick, there is now further clinical evidence of an association between the product and possible liver failure in dogs. A clinical report appearing in the Oct. 1 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) discusses the sometimes fatal conditions developed by dogs that have ingested xylitol. Xylitol, a sweetener found in many sugar-free chewing gums, candies, baked goods and toothpastes, is a naturally occurring ingredient that may have far-reaching negative health effects on dogs.

"Not all things that are natural are safe," said veterinary toxicologist Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, who along with veterinarian Eric K. Dunayer co-authored the report. "There are plenty of things in the environment that are toxic to pets."

While not all pets become ill after eating xylitol, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said the public—and especially dog owners—needs to be aware of the potential dangers. She added that pet owners should make sure that products containing xylitol are kept away from dogs. If an owner suspects that their dog has eaten products containing xylitol, they should contact their veterinarian immediately.

"The potential for severe illness is very high," she said. "People don't think sugar-free gum can kill their dog. I didn't before I got into this. But this is something people should be aware of."
The press release notes that a dog should be taken for treatment even if a relatively small amount of food containing xylitol is consumed. As little as three or four pieces of sugar free gum could potentially cause illness. Apparently, not every dog will get sick after consuming xylitol. Why some dogs get sick and others do not is still unclear.

Moreover, there is as yet no reliable data available on how xylitol affects other domestic animals such as cats. Pet owners should ensure that products containing xylitol are kept well out of reach of their animals and that other family members and visitors are aware of the potential danger.

While xylitol can be harmful to animals, it is considered perfectly safe for humans and has been used in a variety of products for many years.

References:
AVMA: Sugar Substitute May Be Dangerous to Dogs
FDA - Xylitol
Xylitol.Org - Xylitol on the Web
TimesDispatch.com | Sugarless gums can be dangerous for dogs

Last updated: 5th December 2006
First published: 5th December 2006

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen