My best friend Liz and her Shepherd mix Luna have been a package deal since the day Liz found her at a local rescue. Where Liz goes, Luna enthusiastically follows. But nobody ever minds, because watching Luna hop from person to person and squeeze all one-hundred pounds of herself onto someone’s crushed lap makes every party, movie night, and dinner a hilarious event. While Luna is a charismatic personality to have around, she also knows to do what she is told— for the most part. Every once in a while, Luna falls victim to her guilty pleasure of thievery. If Liz accidentally leaves an especially chewy-looking shoe within Luna’s reach, chances are she will return home to find a freshly murdered shoe. Thankfully Luna’s love for ripping things apart has never led to any serious damage (although the shoes probably beg to differ), but a seemingly innocuous stolen snack once quickly became a close call.
On Christmas night, Liz left Luna cheerfully chasing a brand new ball around the living room. But when she returned home from her family gathering, rather than Luna bounding to the door to greet her with hugs and kisses as she always does, Liz found her usually energetic dog curled up in her bed. As Liz tried to nudge Luna awake, she prayed she was simply in a very deep slumber— she did have quite the exhausting day running around with her cousins and playing with her assortment of Christmas toys. But despite Liz’s attempts to wake Luna, she continued to lay very still without opening her eyes. Resisting the urge the panic, Liz scanned the house in search of any evidence for Luna’s strange behavior.
Liz found a torn down Christmas stocking accompanied by several empty candy wrappers beneath the fireplace. While she expected candy could give a dog a pretty bad stomachache and some diarrhea, was it poisonous enough to bring down a young, perfectly healthy, large dog? Knowing in her gut that something wasn’t right, she called Luna’s veterinarian with the ingredient wrappers she was able to salvage in hand.
The veterinary receptionist who answered the phone explained that Xylitol, one of the ingredients listed on the torn-up gum wrapper, is a very dangerous toxin for dogs. She stressed that Liz needed to get Luna to the nearest emergency clinic as soon as possible because her weakness and non-responsiveness were symptoms of Xylitol poisoning. Xylitol poisoning occurs when a dog ingests this sugar substitute which is found in many foods such as sugar free gum and some other types of candy. Liz was appalled to learn that Xylitol can even be found in certain brands of Luna’s favorite treat— peanut butter. While this naturally occurring sweetener is perfectly safe for humans, for dogs it causes serious life-threatening health problems such as hypoglycemia, seizures and liver failure.
Because many gum manufacturers do not state how much Xylitol is used in their products, the emergency veterinarian had to assume a worst-case scenario to ensure that Luna received effective treatment. Treatment for Xylitol poisoning can vary depending on the size of the dog, how much Xylitol was ingested, and and how long it takes the patient to receive veterinary attention. In Luna’s case, the emergency veterinarian gave activated charcoal, administered fluids, and monitored her overnight. Because she received treatment quickly, she made a full recovery and is now back to her normal self.
Liz was shocked that even an experienced and attentive dog owner like herself could be unaware of such a commonly used toxin. While everyone knows to immediately seek veterinary attention if their dog eats chocolate, Xylitol is not frequently discussed. Because Xylitol has been recently added to more foods and even peanut butter, a greater awareness of this toxin is necessary. Now that Liz has witnessed the incredibly harmful effects first-hand, she reminds every dog owner she knows to cautiously check ingredient labels before giving peanut butter or storing snacks within their reach.
Xylitol is toxic for dogs because it is absorbed into their bloodstream very quickly and causes the pancreas to release too much insulin, which leads to hypoglycemia and liver failure. Signs of Xylitol poisoning include: vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking normally, lethargy, tremors, and seizures. Signs of Xylitol poisoning can occur within only 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion and immediate veterinary attention is crucial.
Be sure to always check ingredients of peanut butter used for dog treats, and keep any gum or candy containing Xylitol out of reach (even if they are in a purse or backpack). Instead, store these foods behind closed doors or up high.
If your dog ever eats something they are not supposed to, check the ingredient label and call your vet immediately.