March is Poison Prevention Month. One of the most common pet toxins to be found in our homes is xylitol, an artificial sugar found in many candies, gums, and baked goods. Here, your Portland, OR vet tells you all about xylitol toxicity and how to keep your pet from harm.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute, similar to aspartame, which is often used in candies and gums as well as certain pastries. It’s fine for human consumption, and is even thought to improve dental health and contain less calories than normal sugar. However, xylitol is a known pet toxin. Both cats and dogs are susceptible to poisoning, but dogs are more frequently poisoned (this is likely thanks to the indiscriminate tastes of dogs).
The amount of xylitol necessary to cause symptoms will vary depending on the amount ingested and the size of your pet. With that being said, it doesn’t take much! As little as a stick and a half of gum or a few pieces of candy sweetened with xylitol can poison a small pet (under 10 pounds). A large pet who eats an entire pack of xylitol-sweetened candy or gum is at serious risk!
The real danger of xylitol is that a pet’s pancreas may confuse it with real sugar and release insulin as a result. This will lead to a sudden, dramatic drop in blood sugar. Symptoms may include weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, spasms, and seizures. Without treatment, a pet may experience coma and death.
Generally, symptoms of poisoning appear within 30 minutes of ingestion.
If you see or suspect that your pet has eaten xylitol, rush them to your local veterinary emergency room for prompt treatment. Your Portland, OR veterinarian may administer activated charcoal to slow the poison’s absorption, or induce vomiting to rid the system of the toxin. Fluid therapy, oxygen supplementation, and other supportive measures will be needed to return your pet to full health.
Obviously, preventing an episode of xylitol poisoning is far easier and more effective than treating it after the fact. Fortunately for you, it’s as easy as restricting your pet’s access to any and all foods containing the sweetener! Never leave such items out on countertops or tables where pets could reach them.