Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used a sugar substitute in a growing number of confectionary products. It is naturally occuring, being derived from the fibers of may fruits and vegetables, including corn husks and pats. In humans, over-consumption of xylitol can result in bloating and diarrhea, but these side-effects are thought to be less extreme than in the other popular sugar-substitute sorbitol. It is these properties that have driven manufacturers of everything from chewing-gum to toothpaste to replace at least some of the sugar in their products with xylitol.
Last year, the ASPCA® Animal Poison Center (APCC) received approximately 2,690 calls related to accidental xylitol ingestion. This represents an almost 40% increase on three years ago, and an astonishing 30-fold increase on 2004’s cases. According to Dr. Eric Dunayer, Senior Toxicologist at the APCC, dogs ingesting items sweetened with xylitol could develop a fairly sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures. "These signs can develop quite rapidly, at times less than 30 minutes after ingestion of the product. Therefore, it is crucial that pet owners seek veterinary treatment immediately."
Dr. Dunayer also states that there appears to be a strong link between xylitol ingestions and the development of liver failure in dogs. While it was previously thought that only large concentrations of xylitol could result in problems, this no longer appears to be the case. "We seem to be learning new information with each subsequent case we manage. Our concern used to be mainly with products that contain xylitol as one of the first ingredients. However, we have begun to see problems developing from ingestions of products with lesser amounts of this sweetener." Dr. Dunayer also says that with smaller concentrations of xylitol, the onset of clinical signs could be delayed as much as 12 hours after ingestion. "Therefore, it is important to remember that even if your pet does not develop signs right away, it does not mean that problems won’t develop later on."