Can Gum Really Poison Your Dog?

If your dogs are anything like mine, they love to chew on or eat anything they can fit in their mouths. Certain foods are well-known to dog owners to be toxic to their pets – chocolate, raisins/grapes, onions – but most are unaware that Xylitol can actually do more harm than all of these.  Xylitol, a natural substance derived from the bark of birch trees, is a sugar substitute used in chewing gum because of its antibacterial properties (it is thought to help whiten/clean teeth*). It is also used in nasal sprays, chewable vitamins, throat lozenges and as a sugar replacement for baking.  The number of products containing xylitol is growing due to its perceived health benefits as an alternative to sugar. While xylitol is safe and even healthy for humans, it is extremely toxic to dogs. Dogs cannot process xylitol. A dog’s pancreas confuses it with real sugar and releases insulin in order to store it. Instead, the insulin pulls what sugar is already in the blood stream out, causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia can cause weakness, disorientation, tremors, seizures, coma, and even death. Xylitol also destroys liver tissue and can lead to acute liver failure.

Even a tiny dose (about 0.045 gram/lb) can be toxic to dogs. A typical stick of chewing gum contains about 0.3 – 0.4 grams of xylitol, but some brands of gum contain much more (the range is anywhere from 0.0009 and 1 gram per piece). This means that a 10 pound dog can be poisoned by as little as one stick of gum.

Xylitol poisoning is a serious condition, but there are treatments if it is caught early enough. If your dog ingests (or is thought to have ingested) a product containing Xylitol it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian immediately.  They will be able to induce vomiting and hopefully recover all or part of the product and thereby reduce the severity of toxicity.  Other treatments include bloodwork, activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, dextrose and liver protectants. Bloodwork is typically rechecked several times to ensure that treatment is working and your pet may need to stay in the hospital from 1-3 days depending on the severity of his/her clinical signs.

*For the same reasons, Xylitol is used in mouthwashes, including canine products.  The amount of Xylitol in these products is very small and as long as they are used as directed will not cause a problem.  Be warned though that if you have two dogs drinking out of the same bowl and one is larger than the other, you need to dose to the smallest pet to be safe.  Also be aware that if a patient has a medical condition or is on a medication that causes them to drinking more water than normal, adjustments should be made in the amount added to the water.

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