Xylitol in sugar-free gums deadly for your dog

By Stefano DiPietrantonio – bio |email|Facebook

TAYLOR MILL, KY (FOX19) - Have you ever heard of the artificial sweetener xylitol? It's been on the market for years now and could kill your dog within hours of ingesting it.

For a Kenton County woman, her experience with xylitol was a nightmare, and what happened when her dog got hold of a piece of used sugar-free gum..

If you like to chew gum, you'd better check the label. Veterinarians say they cringe when they see products like Stride or other sugar-free gums sweetened with the xylitol.

Would you know the signs if your dog got hold of it?

Lindsey Wells of Taylor Mill lost her beloved dog Lucy and hopes it never happens to your pet. Lucy was a ball of doggy energy, whether she was hamming it up for the camera, seen in a picture kissing a Christmas ornament or crashed-out on the heating vent after a long day of play.

"She was silly," Lindsey Wells said. "There's no dog that could replace her ever, you could never find her, nowhere, I even found one that kind of looked like her but then I didn't want to, just decided I didn't want to get one that looked like her, because I felt like there was only one."

And what happened to Lucy could easily happen to your pet.

Lucy died after ingesting gum laced with xylitol, which is an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Xylitol is a common chemical found in most brands of sugar free gum.

It's what gives gum a sweet taste, especially helpful for diabetics who can't chew gum made with sugary sweeteners.

Pet owners need to be wary. The U.S. Poison Control Center reports, that dogs poisoned by xylitol is up 142 percent since 2005.

In fact, xylitol has now become the number one cause of dog poisoning in the U.S., overtaking chocolate and antifreeze. In Lucy's case, it was as innocent as someone leaving chewing gum on the side of a plate of cake and walking away.

"And Lucy my dog helped herself to it," Wells said.

Within an hour or two, Lucy started showing signs of xylitol poisoning.

"Her tongue was hanging completely out of her mouth," Wells said.

The U.S. Poison Control Center reports, just three grams of xylitol can kill a 65-pound dog. Tiny 8 pound Lucy, a 2-year-old pet Lindsey Wells adored, had gotten very sick.

"The throwing-up, the diarrhea, and I just thought she'd eaten something that usually passes through their system and they go on," Wells said.

She put Lucy in her bed to rest, figuring it was nothing more than a passing illness, but later that night, when she called out to the dog, it was nearly unresponsive.

"She couldn't stand-up," Wells said. "She just fell to the ground."

Wells took Lucy to an emergency vet.

"The first thing they asked me when I rushed her into the vet was has she had any gum?," said Wells. "And I said 'I don't know', why?"

About 12 hours had passed since the dog had eaten the gum.

"Probably the biggest sign with xylitol toxicity is weakness," said Dr. Amy Snyder with Med Vet in Red Bank. "Just profound weakness, you have an active healthy dog that all of the sudden doesn't want to get up, can't lift it's head."

Snyder was not the vet who treated Lindsey's dog, but runs Med Vet, a 24-hour emergency animal hospital. Snyder said xylitol poisoning can be difficult to diagnose right away.

"The ones that are tougher are the ones that come in weak, wobbly, vomiting, diarrhea," Snyder said. "And you don't actually diagnose them until you run some blood tests and find low blood sugar."

Xylitol is found primarily in chewing gum and in some diabetic foods and will cause a sudden, sometimes deadly drop in blood sugar.

"When the dog ingests the xylitol," Snyder said. "It causes them to release a pretty massive amount of insulin, which most people are familiar with, so insulin causes blood sugar to drop dramatically and then the dog, they just have an unusual metabolism - that effect is dramatic."

Commons signs are vomiting , weakness, ataxia (which are uncoordinated movements), depression, hypokalemia (decreased potassium), seizures, coma, liver dysfunction and/or failure.

Lucy's vet put the dog on fluids right away, trying to stabilize her levels.

"And they couldn't get it to stay where it was supposed to because of the effects of the xylitol," Wells said.

"I just figured I'd wake-up in the morning and they'd tell me, oh, she's fine, she's alert, she's ready for mommy to come pick her up," Wells said. "But they told me that she had no change."

Wells was so upset, her fiance took the phone calls. But, when he left to run an errand, Lindsey answered the phone and it was the doctor with terrible news.

"They just told me there was nothing they could do for her," Wells said, her eyes tearing-up. "That everything was failing, and they were doing CPR on her."

Lucy was dying and wouldn't be able make it.

"It is not always lethal, actually if we catch it early enough, in the last 5 years I've seen, xylitol's been common on the scene, only one fatality from xylitol, so if we catch it early enough and we can get intravenous fluids containing dextrose or a sugar replacement," Snyder said. "I'd say we pull the majority of them through."

"But even if they do survive," Wells said. "They could possibly have liver damage."

The most common xylitol item is sugar-free gum. Gum can be found everywhere, and is often tempting to dogs, so keep gum out of reach.

"Dogs, they're into everything," Wells said. "My dogs, they're always trying to sniff everything out, like what can I get a hold of."

Watch out for open pockets, purses, counter tops, and in the car, where gum may be lying about. Xylitol can also be found in sugar-free (low carob and diabetic) candies, baked goods, some pharmaceuticals and many dental products, including mouthwashes, mints and toothpastes. Use only pet toothpaste for pets, never human toothpaste.

"I feel like if it could kill my dog," Wells said. "I don't really want to chew it."

Today, Wells has two new dogs, who are the loves of her life.

"This is Maya and this one is Kiddy," Wells said. "They're double trouble right here, the terrible two," she said pointing to the two pups. Wells will never forget her beloved Lucy. And she hopes her heartbreak will inspire other dog owners to keep their dogs safe from what is an easily available poison.

There is no study yet that shows xylitol is toxic to cats. Vets we spoke with said cats are not big fans of sweets like dogs. Med Vet said we also have a big ferret population here in Cincinnati and they too are susceptible to xylitol poisoning.

Grapes and raisins are also toxic to dogs and can lead to renal failure.

And that old gum you may find in the yard, doctors said it can still be toxic to your dog, no matter how long it's been out there.

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