Thursday, October 30, 2008

A PSA for You and Your Dog: Xylitol and Halloween

Have you heard about a food ingredient called xylitol?

Do you know it can kill your dog?

If not, keep reading.

Halloween is almost here. Friday night, the goodie bags are gonna come home full. Saturday, I—and thousands of veterinarians across the country—will be at work, fingers crossed that this year, we won’t see any poisonings.

First on my hit list: Xylitol. Xylitol isn’t the most common pet poisoning out there. But it made the top of my list because it's the least known, and incidents are increasing at an alarming rate. In 2002, only 2 cases were reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. In 2007, that number jumped to almost 2,000 cases.

Xylitol is a sugar substitute, found in a wide variety of sugar-free foods, gum, candy, toothpaste, mouthwash, and other products. It’s harmless to people. But in dogs, even a tiny amount causes severely low blood sugar, which can lead to seizures, coma, and possibly death. A slightly larger amount can lead to liver failure, which can also be fatal. How much is a tiny amount? Only one to two sticks of xylitol-sweetened chewing gum can poison a 20-lb dog. One stick of gum killed this little 9-lb terrier.

Since dogs, like us, have a sweet tooth—and since the number and variety of xylitol-containing products is growingplease, please, please keep these products far out of reach. (When I say far out of reach, keep in mind my clients' dogs have rifled purses, wormed into cabinets, chewed open plastic containers, climbed on counters, and--in one case--figured out how to pry open the refrigerator. As one very wise veterinarian I worked for said, “They’ve got nothing to do all day but figure out how to get what they want!”)

And please—spread the word. Here’s a great article that sums up xylitol poisoning, symptoms, and treatment. If you suspect your dog has gotten into xylitol, get off this blog and call your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Minutes are critical in poisonings. Don’t delay!

Next up: Chocolate. A lot of people do know about this one, but did you know why it’s toxic? The ingredient theobromine. At high enough doses, theobromine causes vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, and heart arrhythmias. Severe poisonings are potentially fatal. How much chocolate triggers these signs depends on the size of the dog and the type of chocolate. About 8 oz of milk chocolate is toxic for a 20-lb dog, compared to less than 1 oz of baking chocolate.

How common is chocolate toxicity? I don’t have any hard numbers, but I can tell you it’s one of the most common poisonings we see, and it’s surely the number one holiday-associated toxicity. For more information, here's a good article. Although lots of people know about chocolate, lots of others don't, especially kids. So again, keep those Halloween bags way out of reach and spread the word! And again, if you think your dog has ingested chocolate, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately at (888) 426-4435.

Okay, enough spooking of the blog folk! Here's wishing you all happy—and safeHalloween. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!!


Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't know that about Xylitol. Thanks for the information. It's amazing how different things are toxic to different species. I've heard that tulips are bad for cats, but one of mine chowed down on some with no ill effects. I guess he didn't get the memo.

Melissa Marsh said...

Great information, Christine! Thanks so much for this. I think I will forward it on!

Walter Rowntree said...

Fun facts: 'Theobromine' is Greek for "food of the Gods".
Chocolate is no more toxic for dogs than it is for people. It's just that a miniature poodle WILL eat a whole pound of chocolate if it gets the chance and a person won't (well, a whole pound, yes, but not an equivalent amount weight for weight as a little dog and a big chocolate). The LD50 for a 75kg adult human is SEVEN lbs of chocolate (+/- depending on the type). And please don't ever use the expression "Death by Chocolate" since it's NOT funny. I have only ever seen one dog actually die of this, and it is HORRIBLE. A little 2.something lb chihuahua who ate a three musketeers' bar.
Also, I read your title and the first thing I thought was, "what does xylitol have to do with Prostate Specific Antigen?"

Christine Fletcher said...

Well, Halloween is past, and we didn't see any poisonings the next day. A ton of fight wounds, though, and one poor kitten who singed his eye and whiskers on a candle. All should heal fine, though. Whew!

Theobromine=food of the gods...pretty accurate! (although I admit I'm not much of a chocolate fan myself).

And now you know PSA also stands for Public Service Announcement. If I'd thought of the other meaning, though, I probably would've picked another blog post title. :)

Walter said...

I just found out that Neurontin, the liquid gabapentin, contains xylitol as a sweetener. Scary, huh? I've been prescribing that stuff.