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Dog owners beware: Popular sweetener may be deadly, FDA warns

Dogs have been known to die of xylitol poisoning in as little as one hour. Here's what you need to know.

The Food and Drug Administration has posted an updated warning to dog owners about the dangers of letting their pets consume a sweetener that is popular in items like sugarless chewing gum: xylitol.

It comes after a report of a Bay Area dog ending up in a veterinary hospital after being given skinny vanilla ice cream with xylitol in it. The dog survived, but many others in recent years have died after consuming foods with xylitol. Some of those deaths have occurred in as little as one hour.

Here's why it's not dangerous for humans but is for dogs: The FDA says xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the human pancreas, but it can lead to a "potent" release of insulin in dogs because it is absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly. That can lead to hypoglycemia.

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The FDA says xylitol can be found in these products, among others:

  • 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
  • sugar-free desserts, including "skinny" ice cream

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, decreased activity, weakness, staggering, lack of coordination, collapse and seizures, according to the FDA. If you suspect your dog has xylitol poisoning, get them to a veterinarian or animal hospital immediately. Expect to keep them there for a few days as some of the signs of hypoglycemia may not occur for 12-to-24 hours. 

The FDA says xylitol does not appear to be as dangerous to cats, but notes that cats tend to stay away from sweets. Ferrets, however, could experience similar health risks as dogs.

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Young girl feeding her dog a spoon full of peanut butter