Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that’s commonly used as a sugar substitute. As sweet as sucrose, it only contains about two-thirds the calories. It’s lower on the glycemic index (how much a carbohydrate-rich food raises blood sugar levels compared to glucose), so it’s useful for diabetics or people on low carbohydrate diets.

But xylitol for dogs? Not so sweet! In fact, it’s really dangerous!

Here’s why – and what to do if you think your dog has eaten something continuing it.

Why is Xylitol for Dogs so Dangerous?

In dogs, xylitol causes low blood sugar and liver injury.

Signs of low blood sugar include:

  • weakness
  • unsteadiness
  • shaking
  • seizures

Symptoms of low blood sugar can occur as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion, but as long as up to 12 hours.

Xylitol can also injure a dog’s liver. Signs of liver damage are:

  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • yellowing of the skin

These may not appear for a few days after ingestion.

And what about cats? Thankfully, our cats (and most other animals) seem to be ok. Xylitol doesn’t seem to have the same impact on our furry felines.

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Where is Xylitol Hiding in Your Home?

xylitol for dogs

Xylitol can be found in many commonly purchased goods. While food items are the most common, you can also find the ingredient in:

  • Medications
  • Vitamins
  • Personal care items like baby wipes, diapers, sunscreen, makeup, and lip balm
  • Oral health products like toothpaste, dental floss, breath fresheners, mouth wash and mints 

Many of these items don’t list ingredients, so you may not even know it’s in there!

Foods that commonly contain xylitol include:

  • Gum
  • Pudding
  • Candy
  • Chocolate
  • Baked items
  • Pancake syrup
  • Ketchup
  • Barbecue sauce

Be sure to double check the ingredients to see if xylitol is on the list.

Xylitol and Dogs: What to Do

If you know (or are concerned that) your dog has consumed something containing xylitol, don’t panic. You want to act quickly, but calmly. Call your veterinarian right away, and if you notice symptoms, get to an emergency vet clinic as soon as you can. It’s important to contact our vet even if you don’t notice symptoms – they’ll want to do an assessment.

If your pet got into something but is still acting normal, you should still call APCC so they can determine if the amount of xylitol ingested is dangerous to your pet’s health. The amount of xylitol found in different products—even different flavors of gum—can vary widely, so having information about the item ingested, how much was ingested and knowing your pet’s weight is important.  

First, your vet will probably check your dog’s blood sugar and liver enzymes to see if they’re abnormal. If your dog does have low blood sugar, your vet might give her a source of sugar (dextrose) through an IV to bring her sugar levels back up to normal. They might recommend that your pet stay overnight for monitoring, and they might give her some meds to protect her liver. When it comes to xylitol and dogs, rest assured, most recover even after ingesting large amounts of xylitol, but fast action and veterinary care is essential.