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Here’s What You Need to Know About an Ingredient That’s Poisoning Dogs

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Keep your pup safe and away from xylitol.Photograph by Redstallion — Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s found in chewing gum, mints, and even some types of nut butters. The ingredient is called xylitol, and it could kill or severely poison your dog.

Xylitol is a type of sweeter that’s actually found to have beneficial effects on human dental health, hence its common use in chewing gum. However, that same ingredient has been found to be extremely dangerous for dogs, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just released a strong warning for pet owners to keep these products out of reach of dogs.

The sweetener is dangerous to dogs but not humans because xylitol causes the pancreas in dogs to secrete insulin (that doesn’t happen in humans). The rapid release of insulin after eating xylitol causes a dog’s blood sugar levels to drop precipitously, even to a life-threatening point.

The FDA had received “several reports” of dogs being poisoned by xylitol, and other pet poison centers have seen a similar rise in xylitol-linked issues among dogs. The Pet Poison Hotline received 2,900 xylitol-poisoning calls last year, up from only 300 in 2009. They been receiving even more this year, reported the Wall Street Journal. (The danger among cats doesn’t seem to be as extreme since cats often don’t like sweets.)

Here’s what you need to know about xylitol to keep your pup safe.

Foods Containing Xylitol

Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute in breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, adult and children’s chewable vitamins, mouthwash, and toothpaste. It is also often used in nasal sprays and certain brands of nut butters, including peanut butter.

Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning

The FDA says to look out for “vomiting, followed by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures.”

What to Do If You Think Your Dog Ate Xylitol

Take the dog to a vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately, recommended Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at the FDA.

Hypoglycemia, i.e. very low blood sugar, may not occur in some cases until 12 to 24 hours after a dog ingests xylitol, so the dog may need to be monitored.

How to Avoid Xylitol Poisoning

Check product labels if you’re concerned that a food you feed your dog may contain xylitol. This is especially important for nut butters.

Anything that does contain the sweetener, keep it out of reach of pets and ensure they can’t get their paws on it, whether it be keeping your purse zipped and out of reach or your toothpaste in a high cabinet. Only use toothpaste intended for pets on your dog, never human toothpaste.