Xylitol is a sweetener approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although considered safe for humans, this sweetener can have toxic effects on dogs, resulting in death if emergency care is not administered quickly. The reason xylitol can be so toxic to dogs and yet safe for humans is that dogs metabolize some substances differently than humans do.
According to Xylitol.org, the sweetener is found naturally in some fruits, vegetables and woods such as birch. It is chemically different from sugar in a way that is beneficial for teeth--xylitol does not promote cavities. Xylitol is touted as reducing harmful bacteria in the mouth. In addition, the sweetener is recommended for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels.
Xylitol is mainly used as a sugar substitute in gum, candy and cookies. The sweetener is also used in some brands of toothpaste and mouthwash. It is used medicinally as an antibacterial agent taken orally to help fight ear infections.
Xylitol is toxic to dogs--even a small amount can cause liver failure. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately if you suspect it has eaten a product containing this sweetener. Often symptoms will not show up for several hours. Although not all dogs are affected, those that are have a high risk of death.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Pets may or may not show symptoms after consuming xylitol products. If they do, look for lethargy as one of the first signs. Dogs may experience a large drop in blood sugar after eating xylitol, resulting in life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver failure.
Xylitol may be poisonous to other pets, but how it affects cats is not yet known. Because dogs like sweets and tend to scavenge, they are more likely to eat gum, cookies and other items that might contain xylitol. For the safety of your pets, keep all xylitol products out of reach.