Did you know that ‘sugarless’ food can kill your dog?
Last year, Tonia Cox’s Labradoodle, Murphy Jo, ingested 20 pieces of Ice Breakers gums. The Charlotte dog owner had no idea that the sweetener in the sugarless chewing gum could kill her family’s dog.
Murphy Jo began vomiting and became lethargic. They took her to a local animal hospital where the Labradoodle was diagnosed with liver failure.
“They told me to bring my kids in to say goodbye to her,” said Cox. “We all held her and cried.”
Three blood-plasma transfusions later, Murphy Jo survived and the veterinary bills reached more than $5,000.
In August, another dog went through the same thing. A family from New Oxford, Pennsylvania rushed Goldie, their Labrador Retriever, to an emergency vet after he started trembling and having seizures.
The Labrador had consumed the contents of three Ice Breakers containers left in a visiting teenager’s backpack. Goldie survived.
“We’re grateful he survived,” said Dona Tolic Hoff, Goldie’s owner.
The Culprit: xylitol
These dogs almost died because of a substance called xylitol. It is sugar substitute used by several food manufacturers. It has been deemed safe for humans but is extremely harmful and deadlyfor dogs.
According to animal poison-control centers, the artificial sweetener is causing an upsurge in accidental dog poisonings and some of the cases are fatal.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase” in xylitol calls, said Dr. AhnaBrutlag, senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline.
The center has had about 2,800 calls about known or suspected xylitol ingestion so far this year – an appalling increase compared to 300 in 2009.
Dr. Brutlag said xylitol has become one of the most dangerous food-related poisons her team deals with.
“There are still a lot of dog owners who have never heard of xylitol, nor do they understand that something this benign, an ordinary sweetener, could be toxic to pets,” she said.
Currently, there is no comprehensive data on how many pets die from consuming xylitol-laden products.
Besides gum, xylitol is used in other products such as mints, gummy vitamins, toothpaste, specialty peanut butter and melatonin sleep aids.
Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol extracted from plants. It is well-tolerated by humans, but causes sudden release of insulin in dogs. This results in low blood sugar – potentially leading to seizures and brain damage. It can also cause liver failure.
Xylitol in gums
In some flavors of Trident gum, xylitol is listed as the third ingredient. A spokeswoman for its maker, Mondelez International Inc., said the xylitol content is proprietary. She said the ingredients are properly labeled and the products “are intended for human consumption.”
Some experts cite Ice Breakers Ice Cubes gum by the Hershey Co as among the most hazardous.
It’s “the biggest gum brand that we worry about,” said Dr. Amy Koenigshof, an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of a recent paper on xylitol toxicity. The artificial sweetener makes up more than half the weight in certain Ice Breakers flavors, about 1.2 grams of xylitol per piece, according to Hershey’s consumer helpline. That’s about 8 to 10 times the amount of xylitol in some other popular gums.
A toxic dose of xylitol—enough to potentially cause low blood sugar or other symptoms—is 0.1 grams per kilogram of the dog’s weight. This means that a single piece of Ice Breakers Ice Cube gums could be toxic for a 26-pound dog.
Experts say that each piece of the gum is about 12 times as toxic to dogs as a piece of dark chocolate of the same weight.
Increasing numberof xylitol poisonings in dogs
The ASPCA’s poison center first raised an alarm about xylitol in 2004, after receiving 82 calls that year. Last year, the center received 3,727 calls with at least 11 fatalities. Dr. Wismer said the total number of poisonings is likely higherbecause many cases aren’t reported.
There are also hypotheses that xylitol may be toxic to cats as well, but there aren’tenough incidents to make a substantiated claim, Dr. Brutlag said. Xylitol may be harmful to other species, including cattle and baboons.
Veterinarians say that the products that list xylitol as the first ingredient are often are the most hazardous. But judging exactly how much xylitol is in a product is not easy since some manufacturers won’t disclose the exact xylitol content.
Petitions calling for warning labels on products containing xylitol
An Oregon pet-safety group has launched a petition calling for warning labels on products containing xylitol. Affected pet owners have signed the petition and are raising awareness for the cause.
But some pet-poisoning experts think that the move is not realistic and say that educating dog owners is the best way to handle the issue.
According to food manufacturers, xylitol-containing products are properly labeled and are only meant for human consumption.
Many xylitol-poisoning cases in dogs involve gum, but veterinarians say some of the most serious poisonings result from dogs ingesting an entire jar of xylitol-sweetened vitamins or homemade baked goods made with bulk xylitol.
“Dogs don’t have an off button,” said Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center at the ASPCA. “They get into the muffins and eat an entire tin”
But “if you get these animals in to a veterinarian, they tend to do quite well,” Dr. Wismer added.
A Hershey spokesman said they understand the candor of concerned pet owners saying,“We certainly understand the deep passion that pet owners have for their animals, but there are many foods and ingredients, including xylitol-containing foods, intended for human consumption that should not be consumed by animals or pets.”
Source: Wall Street Journal