I had a case yesterday of a dog who got into some sugar free gum over the weekend, and I wondered how many people knew about the dangers of xylitol. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener (sugar alcohol) used in many sugar free gums and can cause serious side effects in dogs. Dogs find the gum and think it is a sweet treat meant for them. In the case yesterday the dog didn’t get enough to cause any issues, but it was a close enough call to pass on a reminder and a warning about xylitol.
A quick aside about blood sugar before we get started on the problems xylitol causes. When a dog eats sugar, the blood sugar goes through the roof (not too complicated). The spike in blood sugar tells the pancreas “Release insulin!” The insulin is released into the bloodstream and allows the sugar to be taken into cells. the blood sugar lowers and the cycle starts over again.
Affects on the Blood Sugar
Xylitol doesn’t affect humans the same way because it is not quickly absorbed. In dogs the artificial sugar is absorbed quickly and causes an insulin release but does not increase the blood sugar like normal sugar does. The result is a quick insulin release which drops an already normal blood sugar to dangerously low levels. Listlessness and vomiting can be followed by seizures and coma if the blood sugar drops too low. Obviously, this can be life threatening unless treated with hospitalization and the administration of intravenous dextrose (sugar). If the dog survives the first twenty-four hours, the blood sugar levels will stabilize but the pitiful pup isn’t out of the woods just yet.
Affects on the Liver
Many dogs who survive the first scare of xylitol ingestion face another battle over the next three days – liver failure. For reasons that are less clear (although I would imagine this occurs as the liver tries to break down and metabolize the xylitol), the liver takes a big hit. Supportive care, fluids, and liver supportive medications can help, but in some cases the liver will still fail due to the high doses and irreparable damage caused by the drug.
Obviously, the best treatment is prevention. It is very important not to let your dog have access to any sugar free gum or to leave it lying in a location where they can sniff it out.
– Doc Cleland