Facts About Xylitol and Its Toxicity to Pets
Xylitol has received a lot of attention in recent years, partly due to the increase in reported incidents of dog poisonings. While many people are aware of its toxicity to dogs, questions may remain about xylitol. The following are some of the most common questions regarding xylitol and how it affects dogs.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in various plants, bacteria, and fungi. Originally discovered in and derived from birch trees in the late 1800s¹, xylitol now has uses in a variety of applications.
What are the uses for xylitol?
Because it is as sweet as sugar with fewer calories, many products use xylitol as a safe alternative to sugar. Many oral care products contain xylitol due to its health benefits. Xylitol was first studied for effective use in preventing dental caries (cavities) in Finland in the 1970s². Since then, dental professionals have praised xylitol as being a safe, accessible, and effective tool in the fight against oral disease. Research shows xylitol can prevent cavities, repair enamel, and has anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis properties².
Several studies in recent years have shown xylitol has potential for extensive health benefits beyond oral care. These studies show xylitol may be effective in treating obesity and metabolic syndromes, respiratory diseases, inflammation, and even cancer¹,².
What products contain xylitol?
Discoveries and biotechnological advances over the years have increased the ease and cost effectiveness of xylitol production, allowing it to appear in a range of products. Unfortunately, this also increased opportunities for accidental ingestion.
Xylitol appears in many products including baked goods, candy, gum, peanut and other nut butters, mouthwash, toothpaste, medications (including cough syrups), ice cream, mints, cosmetics, and dietary supplements and vitamins.
What are some other names for xylitol?
With pets in your home, it is important to know which products contain xylitol; and being able to recognize it on an ingredient list is necessary. Alternate names for xylitol include wood sugar, birch sugar, and birch bark extract³. Some ingredient labels may simply list it as sugar alcohol or artificial sweetener. Some products list xylitol under the inactive ingredients section. Some ingredient lists do not list xylitol at all.
Which pets can xylitol harm?
In small domestic animals, xylitol is toxic to dogs and rabbits.
How does xylitol affect dogs?
The most common consequence of xylitol poisoning is a serious, sometimes fatal condition, called hypoglycemia. Once consumed, xylitol causes dogs’ insulin to rise rapidly, which causes their blood sugar to drop, which causes hypoglycemia. Dogs may also suffer from hepatopathy (liver disease). This occurs when liver enzymes become elevated. Large doses of xylitol can cause liver damage and failure.
These diseases are not mutually exclusive.
Most dogs who ingest small amounts of xylitol may suffer from hypoglycemia alone. Alternatively, dogs who develop liver disease do not always present with hypoglycemia. In one small study, 75% of dogs did not develop hypoglycemia before developing liver failure⁴.
The effects of xylitol toxicosis can occur between 30 minutes and 48 hours after ingestion. Hypoglycemia can present in as little as 30 minutes after ingestion or up to 12 hours. Liver damage can present hours or days after ingestion.
The clinical signs of xylitol toxicosis in dogs include vomiting, lethargy, seizure, coma, weakness, disorientation, tremors, and difficulty walking. These may or may not be present in cases with hepatopathy as the sole consequence of poisoning.
What is the treatment for xylitol poisoning?
There is no antidote for xylitol poisoning. Treatment depends on the severity of poisoning and timeliness of discovery and typically consists of supportive care. In some cases, if caught early enough, veterinarians may induce vomiting if it is possible to expel an ingested item such as candy or gum. Other treatments include intravenous glucose, liver protectants, and monitoring including repeated liver enzyme testing.
What can pet owners do to keep pets safe?
The best way to keep pets safe is to keep all products not meant for them out of their reach, especially because xylitol is not always recognizable or listed on products. Consider that pets often get onto counters and into cabinets, into purses and backpacks, and into garbage cans. They are crafty, curious beings.
If you suspect your pet ingested a product with xylitol, contact a veterinarian or poison hotline right away. If your pet shows signs of xylitol toxicosis or if you know your pet ingested a product with xylitol, seek emergency medical help immediately. Because a small amount of xylitol can poison dogs in a short time, every second counts.
Xylitol has several benefits to humans, just one of which is the ability to improve oral health. Its disease-fighting attributions also give xylitol the potential for major contributions in medicine. Because xylitol is in many products and will likely be in many future products, pet owners must be mindful. To keep pets safe, know which products in your home may have xylitol. Read labels. Keep products that are not pet specific inaccessible to them, bearing in mind pets are clever when they want to get into something. Remember that seconds matter in cases of xylitol toxicosis and medical care is immediately necessary.
- Ahuja V, Macho M, Ewe D, Singh M, Saha S, Saurav K. Biological and pharmacological potential of Xylitol: A molecular insight of unique metabolism. Foods. 2020;9(11):1592. doi:10.3390/foods9111592
- Benahmed, Asma Gasmi, et al. “Health Benefits of Xylitol.” Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, vol. 104, no. 17, Springer Science+Business Media, July 2020, pp. 7225–37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-020-10708-7.
- Center for Veterinary Medicine. Paws off! Xylitol is toxic to dogs. US Food And Drug Administration. December 2022. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/paws-xylitol-toxic-dogs.
- Peterson, Michael E. “Xylitol.” Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, vol. 28, no. 1, Elsevier BV, Feb. 2013, pp. 18–20. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.tcam.2013.03.008.