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Xylitol—A Death Sentence For Dogs

by Barry KuKes
Halloween is right around the corner. Many homes will have cupboards and counters with scrumptious and delicious candies of all varieties available for the taking. A sweet treat for kids of all ages, candy is always welcome at my house (even though my waistline disapproves). Still, I ensure that any candy or other ingestible item that may contain xylitol is securely locked away and out of the reach of my three dogs.
Per the FDA website (, over the past several years, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received several reports—many of which pertained to chewing gum—of dogs being poisoned by xylitol, according to Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at the FDA. The most recent report was related to (sugar-free) ice cream.
You may have heard or read news stories about dogs that have died or become very ill after eating products containing xylitol, also known as birch sugar or wood sugar.
Gum isn’t the only product containing xylitol. Slightly lower in calories than sugar, this sugar substitute is also often used to sweeten sugar-free candy, such as mints, chocolate bars, and sugar-free chewing gum. Other products that may contain xylitol include: breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, children’s and adult chewable vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste, some peanut and nut butters, over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, and sugar-free desserts.
Xylitol can also be used in baked goods, such as cakes, muffins, and pies —often because the baker is substituting another sweetener for sugar, as in products for people with diabetes. People can buy xylitol in bulk to bake sweet treats at home. In-store bakeries also sell baked goods containing the sweetener. Some pediatric dentists also recommend xylitol-containing chewing gum for children; these products could end up accidentally in a dog’s mouth. Keeping all such products well out of your dog’s reach is a good idea.
As noted above, many toothpastes contain xylitol. So, consider other op-tions the next time you squeeze out the last of your toothpaste and throw the empty tube in the bathroom waste basket. It would be best to place the tube in a trash container that your dog cannot invade. Even though you consider the tube empty, there may be enough residue in the tube to poison your dog. Check the labels.
The FDA states that the symptoms to look for in your dog if you suspect xylitol poisoning include 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.
If you think your dog has eaten xylitol, immediately take him to your vet or an emergency animal hospital. Hypoglycemia and other serious ad-verse effects may not occur in some cases for up to 12 to 24 hours. Your dog may need to be hospitalized for medical monitoring.
In the past, some peanut butter brands contained xylitol, but those brands were not sold at retail and were difficult to get online. Always read the contents label on all foods, especially any food you give to your dog intentionally, like peanut butter or peanut butter-based treats and candies.
One of the easiest ways to avoid your dog getting ill or even dying from eating an item containing xylitol is to eliminate the item from your household. This is sometimes easier said than done due to the hundreds of items that might contain this silent killer. When people shop, they don’t tend to read every product label, so many households may already have items in the pantry or bathroom drawer that contain xylitol. If you have a dog or cat (according to some sources, cats are not affected by xylitol, yet other sources state that they are impacted just like a dog), you should do an inventory of the items in your home that might contain xylitol and remove or secure the item to avoid a pet interaction.
Please adopt, don’t shop.

Barry KuKes is the former community outreach director at Halifax Humane Society. E-mail him at View more of his work at