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The Ruff Report: This common artificial sweetener is killing dogs

A common artificial sweetener found in sugar-free baked goods, candy, oral hygiene products and chewing gum can be a killer if ingested by a dog, the FDA is warning.

Xylitol, which is only intended for use by people, can cause sudden drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), seizures and liver failure if ingested by dogs, the Food and Drug Administration says. Depression, loss of coordination and vomiting are signs that a pet may have ingested the artificial sweetener, and symptoms may occur within minutes to days of it.

Owners should consult a veterinarian or pet poison control center immediately for advice if they know or suspect that their pet has ingested a product containing xylitol, the FDA advises.

Dr. Eric Dunayer, a veterinarian at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says dogs who eat larger amounts of items sweetened with xylitol are especially at risk of death. "These signs can develop quite rapidly, at times less than 30 minutes after ingestion of the product,” he states in a media release. “Therefore, it is crucial that pet owners seek veterinary treatment immediately."

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Dr. Dunayer, who specializes in toxicology at the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, says even small amounts of xylitol can be harmful to dogs, and they may not show signs of illness for as long as 12 hours after ingestion. “Our concern used to be mainly with products that contain xylitol as one of the first ingredients," he states. "However, we have begun to see problems developing from ingestion of products with lesser amounts of this sweetener." 

In 2013, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois, handled nearly 180,000 cases about pets exposed to possibly poisonous substances. Incidents involving people foods were the fifth most common cases, mainly due to many of these foods containing xylitol.

Incidents involving xylitol ingestion have increased dramatically in the past decade. In 2009, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, managed 2,690 cases of accidental xylitol ingestion. This was a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of cases involving xylitol-containing products from 2006, and 30 times as many cases from 2004, when the center managed less than 100 incidents of xylitol ingestion.

"One explanation as to the increase in the number of pets accidentally exposed to xylitol may simply be an increase in availability," Mindy Bough, vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, states in a media release. "Xylitol seems to be becoming more popular in food products because it is a useful sugar substitute for diabetics and has been shown to decrease the development of cavities in humans."

More reports about dogs, safety and poison
More reports about dogs and safety 
This common activity can injure - even kill - your pet

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According to the ASPCA, other artificial sweeteners made for human consumption can also make pets ill. Sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (NutraSweet) and saccharin (Sweet N' Low) can cause gastrointestinal upset if eaten in significant quantities, so it is still a good idea to refrain from offering pets foods contained these sweeteners. 


The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on


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