Everybody knows that chocolate is bad for dogs. But the dangers of sugarless chewing gum aren't as well known, even though the consequences can be just as severe.
Sugarless gum often contains xylitol, a sweetener known as sugar alcohol. It's used in many products and foods for human use but can have devastating effects on your pet.
Over the past several years, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received several reports—many of which pertained to chewing gum—of dogs being poisoned by xylitol, according to Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at FDA.
Not just gum
It's not just gum that often contains xylitol. You can also find it in sugar-free candy, including mints and chocolate bars. Other products that may contain xylitol include:
- breath mints;
- baked goods;
- cough syrup;
- children’s and adult chewable vitamins;
- mouthwash; and
Put simply, the problem with xylitol is that it can cause a rapid decrease in blood sugar. That's because -- unlike in humans -- xylitol causes a rapid increase of insulin from the dog's pancreas, which in turn can cause blood sugar levels to plunge to dangerous levels.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, followed by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures.
If you think your dog has eaten xylitol, take him to your vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately, Hartogensis advises. Because hypoglycemia and other serious adverse effects may not occur in some cases for up to 12 to 24 hours, your dog may need to be monitored.
The surest way to keep your dog from accidentally woofing down xylitol is to keep all human food, drugs, and cosmetics in a safe place, keeping in mind that many dogs are adept at counter-surfing.
And by the way, note that human toothpaste often contains xylitol and should never be used for dogs.
What about cats? Their tolerance for xylitol is uncertain, but since most cats hate sweets, it's not usually a problem.