Many people are cutting back on sugar, which has led to an enormous increase in the number of products that contain xylitol, a lower-calorie sugar substitute with a low glycemic index that is found naturally in berries, plums, corn, oats, mushrooms, lettuce, trees and some other fruits. Now it is being used to sweeten everything from chocolate and other candy, to peanut butter and toothpaste. While that’s great news for people, pets aren’t so lucky.

According to the veterinary toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline, this increase in products containing xylitol has resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of xylitol-related pet poisoning cases. Between 2015 and 2020, calls regarding xylitol poisoning increased 108 percent, and the biggest one-year increase was in 2019, when calls were up 47.2 percent from 2018. Interestingly, in 2020 xylitol poisoning calls to the Helpline were second only to regular chocolate poisoning calls.

“Most humans can safely consume products containing xylitol. In fact, some research suggests that the chemical compound may also have positive health benefits for people, including better dental health, prevention of ear infections and it possesses antioxidant properties,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline. “Xylitol consumption by pets, particularly dogs on the other hand, can be extremely toxic and potentially deadly. The most common effect of xylitol poisoning in dogs is a precipitous drop in blood sugar which can lead to loss of consciousness and seizures. In high enough doses, liver failure can begin within a few hours or days.”

The number of xylitol poisoning cases continues to rise, and sometimes those cases are tied to other trends such as the legalization of marijuana. As the use of marijuana increases nationally, so does the consumption of THC-infused edibles – some of which contain xylitol. For example, a California dog recently ingested more than 30 THC-infused mints that were sweetened with xylitol. Her owner not only had to worry about the negative effects from both the THC and the xylitol, but if there would be any negative interactions between the chemicals, causing further harm to her dog.

National Poison Prevention Week is the third full week of March every year, or March 21-27, 2021. Pet Poison Helpline chose to highlight the dangers of xylitol during this annual educational campaign due to the staggering number of products using this popular sugar substitute. In addition to candy and other sweets, xylitol is now being used in peanut butter, nasal sprays, sleep aids, shampoo, deodorant, multivitamins, prescription sedatives and medications, antacids, stool softeners, make-up remover, smoking cessation gums and much, much more.

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