I want to share with you the story of Chloe, a 2 year-old, spayed, female Swiss Mountain Dog, who was rather mischievous one afternoon while her owners were out of the house.
Chloe’s owners had left for the afternoon, and she was allowed to roam the lower level of the house (as is usual for her). On this particular day Chloe went “counter-surfing” and was able to locate a large pack of Ice Breakers gum pushed to the back of the countertop. With her long reach she was able to capture the pack of gum, and ingested all the pieces (including wrappers!).
When Chloe’s family arrived home several hours later they were alarmed to find that their 109-pound family member could not walk straight, almost as if intoxicated. Panicked, they searched the house for any toxic chemicals that Chloe could have gotten access to, but found only the outer wrapper to the aforementioned pack of Ice Breakers gum. They called Ocean County Veterinary Hospital (OCVH) , and we immediately advised bringing Chloe down right away, as this emergency can become a life-threatening situation.
Some flavors of Ice Breakers Gum (along with many other brands of sugar-free gum) contain the artificial sweetener, Xylitol. Xylitol is used worldwide, mainly as a sweetener in chewing gums and pastilles, but is also found in pharmaceuticals and mouthwash. The fluoride supplement that my children take each day contains Xylitol as a flavoring agent. In human literature, Xylitol is praised for being a “dental-friendly” sugar substitute, and is a far superior option for diabetic people than table sugar. Although very safe for humans, Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.
Dogs that ingest products containing Xylitol can show signs of toxicity within 30 minutes. Once ingested Xylitol causes a rapid release of the hormone insulin, which can produce to the following clinical signs:
● Ataxia (uncoordinated movements)
● Hypokalemia (decreased potassium)
● Liver Problems
● and, if a large enough amount is consumed, and untreated, death
Dogs that present to our hospital with Xylitol ingestion / toxicity are treated as very serious, life-threatening emergencies. If the ingestion was thought to have been within 2 hours, vomiting can be induced to remove any yet-undigested material. As with many poisonous substances, inducing vomiting before complete digestion has occurred greatly increases the chances for a dog’s survival. Therefore, going to the veterinarian as soon as possible after suspected ingestion of any toxic substance is very important! If more of the Xylitol-containing product is suspected to be further along in the digestive tract of the dog then a product called activated charcoal (or Toxiban) is sometimes administered. Activated charcoal is a thick, black tarry substance that when ingested coats the stomach and intestines, effectively blocking any further absorption of the toxic material (in this case Xylitol) into the bloodstream.
Now getting a dog to EAT activated charcoal can be a very tricky, and very messy, process – as any veterinary technician will tell you! Frequently, the use of a stomach tube is required.
Any dog that is suspected to have ingested Xylitol must have their blood sugar (glucose) level checked immediately upon admission to the hospital. If hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is present, treatment is immediately initiated to raise the blood sugar with intravenous and oral medications in order to avoid the toxic symptoms listed above. Depending on the amount of Xylitol ingested, when it was ingested, and the success of clearing the digestive track after inducing vomiting and / or using activated charcoal, some dogs require referral to a 24-hour care facility to receive treatment for hypoglycemia for an additional 24-48 hours.
The second dangerous effect of Xylitol toxicity in dogs is a delayed liver failure. Sometimes liver values in a dog’s blood work do not start to rise until days after the Xylitol ingestion, so daily monitoring of a dogs blood work for 3-14 days may be recommended by the veterinarian.
Back to Chloe, our 109-pound Swiss Mountain Dog: Chloe’s blood sugar was already dangerously low at the time of admission to our hospital, and treatment to raise the blood sugar was started immediately. Activated charcoal was administered to her. After she was stabilized, Chloe was referred to a specialty hospital in our area where she remained for 3 days, to monitor and control her blood sugar. Even after discharge from the hospital, Chloe returned to our hospital twice over the next 2 weeks to recheck her liver values. I am happy to report that she has achieved a full recovery and is back to her normal self! Chloe is grateful that her owners were observant and acted so quickly when they discovered she was not feeling well.
Most people know about many of things that are toxic to dogs, including chocolate, grapes, raisins and onions… but so many people are unaware of the dangers that sugar-free gums containing Xylitol present to their dogs. How many of you have a pack of gum in a purse or on a counter in your house?