Read Before You Feed: FDA Reminds Consumers of Xylitol’s Danger to Pets

By Phyllis Entis, July 2019

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reminding consumers that xylitol is highly toxic to dogs.

Xylitol is a naturally occuring alcohol found in plant materials. It is as sweet as suger, but contains 40% fewer calories.

In humans, xylitol does not raise blood sugar levels, nor does it trigger insulin production. It is used as an artificial sweetener in toothpastes, cough syrups, mouthwash, sugar-free gums, breath mints, sugar-free nut butters, and other sugar-free food products.

While safe for human consumption, xylitol is highly dangerous to dogs, whose metabolism is different from that of humans. The sweetener is absorbed rapidly into a dog’s bloodstream, triggering a potent release of insulin from the pancreas.

The insulin, in turn, causes a rapid and precipitous drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), producing symptoms of vomiting followed by decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse and seizures.

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While the effects of xylitol poisoning can begin to develop in as little as 10 to 60 minutes, symptoms may not develop until as long as 12 to 24 hours after ingestion of a product sweetened with xylitol.

Cats and other household pets are less at risk of xylitol poisoning than are dogs, according to FDA, although ferrets have been known to develop low blood sugar and seizures after eating products containing xylitol.

In 2016, the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center received more than 4300 calls relating to xylitol ingesttion.

FDA has received 31 formal reports of xylitol poisoning in dogs since 2010, according to a spokesperson for the agency. Many of the reports involved sugar-free chewing gum.

In addition to the formal reports, the agency has received numerous emails and phone calls from individuals who did not realize that products contained xylitol.

Take steps to safeguard your dog

  • Check the label for xylitol in the ingredients of products, especially ones that advertise as sugar-free or low sugar. If a product does contain xylitol, make sure your pet can’t get to it.
  • Keep products that contain xylitol (including those you don’t think of as food, such as toothpaste) well out of your dog’s reach. Remember that some dogs are adept at counter surfing.
  • Only use pet toothpaste for pets, never human toothpaste.
  • If you give your dog nut butter as a treat or as a vehicle for pills, check the label first to make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol.

Watch the video for more information

For additional information on safeguarding your pets from xylitol poisoning, follow the link to FDA’s video, “Xylitol and Dogs. A Deadly Combination

Report safety issues to FDA

  • FDA wants to know if your pet encounters safety issues with a product, and/or unanticipated harmful effects that you believe are related to a product.
  • You can report problems related to both human and pet foods and treats at the Safety Reporting Portal.
  • Each report is evaluated to determine how serious the problem is and, if necessary, additional information may be requested from the person who filed the report.

Phyllis Entis is the author of Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives and Food Microbiology — The Laboratory. She has been a food safety microbiologist for 35 years, and has worked both in government and industry. She believes that everyone — government regulators, farmers and ranchers, food processors, food service workers, educators and consumers — has a responsibility to ensure that the food we eat is as safe as we can make it.

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