What You Need to Know about Xylitol


Update your knowledge of this human food sweetener that is a danger to pets.


Often used as an artificial sweetener in foods, including sugar-free gum, sugar-free mints, chewable vitamins, toothpaste and oral-care products, Xylitol is often available in a granulated form at your local supermarket for baking and beverage sweeteners.

Why is xylitol so dangerous for dogs and cats?
Xylitol is safe for people, but because of different metabolisms, it can be fatal for dogs and cats. A simple piece of biscuit could kill an animal if the danger is unknown and not addressed immediately. Hypoglycaemia may compound into liver toxicity, liver damage, and ultimately liver failure. Sugar-free chewing gum is the most common cause of xylitol poisoning in pets. However, the recent introduction of xylitol as a substitute for sugar in grocery stores has increased the potential for toxicity.

What are the signs a dog might have eaten xylitol?
Immediately after ingestion, vomiting may occur. Hypoglycaemia develops within 30 to 60 minutes, resulting in lethargy and weakness. These signs may quickly develop into ataxia, collapse, and seizures. Prolonged blood clotting times as well as skin and intestinal haemorrhaging are clinical signs that may develop within hours and warrant a very poor prognosis.

What is the treatment and prognosis?
You must consult your veterinary surgeon immediately. Inducing vomiting removes the xylitol and is imperative, but close monitoring of blood sugar levels and intravenous infusions of glucose may also be needed depending on the amount ingested and how quickly the problem was recognized. The prognosis for dogs with hypoglycaemia is good with immediate and proper treatment, while the prognosis for dogs that have developed liver toxicity is poor. Large ingestions of xylitol (a relatively small amount of the product) that are not caught immediately can result in fulminant liver failure and death despite aggressive supportive care. This can occur in less than 36 hours in dogs that are otherwise young and healthy.

Foods with xylitol

Sugar-free chewing gum isn’t the only product containing xylitol which belongs to class of sweeteners know as sugar alcohol. Slightly lower in calories than sugar, this sugar substitute is also used to sweeten sugar-free sweets such as mints and chocolate bars.

Other products that may contain xylitol include:

  • Breath mints
  • Baked goods
  • Children’s and adult chewable vitamins
  • Cough syrup
  • Dietary supplements
  • Mouthwash
  • Over-the-counter medicines
  • Peanut and nut butters
  • Sugar-free desserts, including “skinny” ice cream
  • Human toothpastes

Xylitol can be used in baked goods, too, such as cakes, muffins and pies—often because the baker is substituting another sweetener for sugar, as in products for people with diabetes. People can buy xylitol in bulk to bake sweet treats at home, and many in-store bakeries

Some paediatric dentists also recommend xylitol-containing chewing gum for children, and these products could end up in a dog’s mouth by accident. It’s a good idea to keep all such products well out of your dog’s reach.

What you can do to avoid xylitol poisoning in your dog

Check ingredient labels, especially on sugar-free items, for xylitol. If a product contains xylitol, make sure your pet can’t get to it. Keep those products well out of your dog’s reach. Only use pet toothpaste for pets, never human toothpaste. Watch nut butters and read the list of ingredients before offering them to your dog to make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol.

Cats and Ferrets

Xylitol does not seem to be as dangerous for cats and other pets. Cats appear to be spared, at least in part, by their disdain for sweets. Ferret owners, however, should be careful, as ferrets have been known to develop low blood sugar and seizures, like dogs, after eating products containing xylitol.