The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging dog owners to be wary of xylitol, a common sweetener found in sugar-free gums, which can have fatal consequences if consumed by dogs.
Over the past few years, reports of dogs being poisoned by xylitol have increased. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center reports that xylitol-related calls have risen from 82 in 2004 to more than 3,700 in 2014. Furthermore, the Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 15 percent increase in these calls this year alone.
Although xylitol is safe for human consumption, dogs do not process it in their bodies the same way as we do, making it dangerous to them.
"In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas," the FDA said in a statement. "However, it's different in canines: When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas."
Chewing gum is the biggest danger posed to dogs in terms of everyday products that contain the sweetener, but others include sugar-free candy, breath mints, cough syrup, mouthwash and toothpaste.
The main symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting followed by a sudden dip in blood sugar, which leads to decreased activity, staggering, weakness, lack of coordination, collapse and seizures.
Given the curious nature of dogs, owners need to really keep their eye on them and make sure that they are aware of any xylitol-containing products that they regularly keep stocked in their home.
"You just have to be really careful because dogs are nosy little creatures and they are hungry all the time," said Ashley Gallagher of the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington D.C. "I know my dogs are, and they are just looking for a treat. So you have to really watch them."
"If you're concerned about your dog eating a food or product with xylitol in it, check the label of ingredients," added Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at the FDA. "If it does, indeed, say that it contains xylitol, make sure your pet can't get to it."
Xylitol was already on the radar of many veterinarians before the recent FDA warning, but this official advisory should cement the real dangers that this chemical poses to dogs everywhere.