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Xylitol is a sugar replacement used in numerous products such as chewing gum, mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, and oral-care products. Itís also frequently purchased in granulated form and utilized as a sweetener for cereals, drinks, and baked goods. Although discovered in the late 1800s by German chemist Emil Fisher, xylitol was not used for commercial puposes until the 1970s.
Xylitol has grown in popularity in the last few years, because itís considered a good sugar substitute for people on a low-carbohydrate diet or concerned with the glycemic index of foods. Xylitol is also popular among diabetics because it does not cause large spikes of insulin production after consumption.
Nevertheless, as the popularity and number of products containing xylitol has increased so has the number of reported toxic exposures to dogs.
In 2003, the ASPCAís Animal Poison Control Center reported three cases of xylitol poisoning. In 2005, 193 cases were reported. And during the first half of 2006, they received 114 reported cases of xylitol poisoning in dogs.
Although itís always been known xylitol causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in dogs, itís only recently been discovered to produce acute and possibly life-threatening liver disease. Humans and dogs do not metabolize substances in the same way and xylitol is no exception. Dogs seem to absorb almost 100% of xylitol while humans absorb only 50%. As a result, only a small amount is needed to produce toxic effects in your dog.
After ingesting xylitol dogs can begin to vomit and develop hypoglycemia within 30 to 60 minutes. Some dogs will develop liver failure within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. One reported case involved a 3-year-old dog that consumed five or six cookies containing the sweetener. It became ill 24 hours later and died the next day.
Dog owners watching their diets and using xylitol-sweetened products in their home need to be aware of the toxic effect it has on your dog. They need to ensure their dogs do not get a hold of any of these products.
Other sugar sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose are generally regarded as safe for dogs.
If you think your dog has ingested xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately.
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