January 7, 2007
Artificial Sweeteners Can Cause Damage To Your Dogs
There has been a fair amount of veterinary press recently about the
dangers associated with dogs ingesting xylitol, an artificial
sweetener used in a variety of products including candy, baked goods,
chewing gum and toothpaste. Ingestion of even small amounts of this
sweetener can cause seriously low blood sugar levels in dogs. In some
cases dogs have also developed liver failure after ingesting the
sweetener. It's important to ensure that products containing xylitol
are kept securely out of reach of our four-legged friends.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has issued a press
release regarding this issue. Read the press release on the AVMA's
website at: www.avma.org/press/releases/061001_xylitol.asp
From the American Veterinary Medical Association:
If you think it's no big deal that your dog just ate some sugar-free
gum or a cookie or two, think again. You may want to make an immediate
trip to your veterinarian.
While veterinarians have suspected that the sugar substitute xylitol
can make dogs sick, there is now further clinical evidence of an
association between the product and possible liver failure in dogs. A
clinical report appearing in the Oct. 1 Journal of the American
Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) discusses the sometimes fatal
conditions developed by dogs that have ingested xylitol. Xylitol, a
sweetener found in many sugar-free chewing gums, candies, baked goods
and toothpastes, is a naturally occurring ingredient that may have far-
reaching negative health effects on dogs.
"Not all things that are natural are safe," said veterinary
toxicologist Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, who along with veterinarian Eric
K. Dunayer co-authored the report. "There are plenty of things in the
environment that are toxic to pets."
While not all pets become ill after eating xylitol, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant
said the public—and especially dog owners—needs to be aware of the
potential dangers. She added that pet owners should make sure that
products containing xylitol are kept away from dogs. If an owner
suspects that their dog has eaten products containing xylitol, they
should contact their veterinarian immediately.
"The potential for severe illness is very high," she said. "People
don't think sugar-free gum can kill their dog. I didn't before I got
into this. But this is something people should be aware of."
In the report, Drs. Dunayer and Gwaltney-Brant, staff members at the
Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Urbana, Illinois, used the Control
Center's data base to gather information on eight dogs that were
treated between 2003 and 2005 after eating products containing
xylitol. Each dog became ill, and while three of the dogs survived,
five of the pets either died or had to be euthanized because of liver
failure possibly stemming from xylitol ingestion.
Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said three additional dogs that ingested xylitol
after the study was conducted either died or had to be euthanized
after becoming ill. All three, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said, had liver
Dr. Gwaltney-Brant described the potential negative xylitol effects on
dogs as a "species difference."
"People only absorb a certain percentage of xylitol," she said. "The
human body doesn't even notice it. However, in dogs, xylitol triggers
significant insulin release, which drops the blood sugar. It is
definitely a species difference. People aren't in danger from sugar-
free gum containing xylitol; dogs are."
The number of xylitol-related pet exposures is on the rise, according
to Dr. Gwaltney-Brant, partly because of increased awareness, but more
so because xylitol is being used in more products. The incidence of
reported xylitol exposures climbed from 70 in 2004 to 170 in 2005. As
of August, the Poison Control Center reported 114 cases of xylitol
exposure this year.
"This is the tip of the iceberg now," she said. "Anything that is
sugar-free could potentially have substituted xylitol for the original
The extent of xylitol's potential effects on the liver are new—and
certainly not good news—for dogs, their owners and veterinarians.
"The fact that xylitol-containing products can cause problems in dogs
is a relatively new find," Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said, explaining that
the sweetener had already been tied to low blood sugar in dogs—but not
liver failure. "Once you start looking at something, you see a lot
more of it."
Some sugar-free chewing gums, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said, are as much as
70 percent xylitol, depending on the brand and whether the product is
used as a primary sweetener.
"A 22-pound dog who consumes 1 gram of xylitol should be treated," she
said. "This can equate to 3 to 4 pieces of some gum products."
One dog in the study that had to be euthanized because of its
condition had eaten four large, chocolate-frosted muffins that
contained about 1 pound of xylitol.
"They use it like sugar," Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said. "Baked goods can
easily contain a large amount of xylitol."
There is no information on whether severe xylitol poisoning has
occurred in cats, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said.
"If we get exposures, we have blood sugar checked as a precaution,"
Dogs, however, are potentially at risk. And while further studies need
to be conducted to definitively establish a cause-and-effect
relationship between xylitol ingestion by dogs and liver damage and
bleeding disorders, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant hopes the message gets out.
"Liver failure is one of our main concerns when dogs get into this,"
she said. "The low blood sugar we can deal with. But the liver damage,
even with aggressive treatment, can make it difficult to save these
For more information, a copy of the study, "Acute hepatic failure and
coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in eight dogs," or an
interview with author Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, contact David
Kirkpatrick at 847-285-6782
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