Sweet treats are a way we like to indulge and reward ourselves occasionally, and when we do, it is hard not to share with our four legged friends. Because of the increased focus on healthier treats for humans, some of the foods we might share with our pets may actually cause them harm, especially sugar-free and reduced sugar foods like cookies, gums, and peanut butter. These foods contain an artificial sweetener, known as xylitol, which could harm your pet.
Before sharing a treat with your pet, make sure to read the food label carefully. You may be surprised to find the artificial sweetener Xylitol in a number of products; it is a common sweetener in many sugar-free gums, chewable vitamins, oral care products, and other low-calorie food items. Because Xylitol is safe for human consumption and tastes just as sweet as common table sugar, many pet owners do not think about or know of the dangerous effects this chemical may have on pets. Dogs, when they eat something containing xylitol, experience immediate physical effects. In dogs, xylitol is rapidly absorbed by the body which causes a large amount of insulin to be released into the blood stream. Because insulin allows sugar (glucose) to enter cells to be used as fuel, a signal is sent to the pancreas to produce more insulin to regulate blood sugar; xylitol tricks the pancreas into releasing more insulin, causing a dramatic drop in the dog’s blood sugar and causing the pet to go hypoglycemic. The rapid absorption of xylitol into the body can also cause dogs that have eaten foods with xylitol to experience a very rapid form of liver failure which can happen within 12-24 hours after eating xylitol. It is very aggressive and can be fatal.
While the effects of xylitol are immediate for dogs, it is important to realize that it does not take a large amount of the artificial sweetener for a dog to get a toxic dose of xylitol; a dog that weighs less than 10 pounds can be harmed by one piece of sugar- free gum. Any possible ingestion by your pet of foods containing even the smallest amounts of xylitol needs immediate medical attention; it is important to contact a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Because of how xylitol is processed by dogs (see above), your pet’s blood sugar and liver function needs to be carefully monitored and may require intravenous sugar and fluids to correct the damage to the liver. While sharing occasional treats with your pet is not a bad thing, please carefully read the label on any low calorie or sugar-free treats first before you share with your pooch.