Artificial sweetener in chewing gum can kill dogs in hours

A letter to The Times highlights the dangers of chewing gum to dogs. It is likely that most people are unaware of the hazard. Christine Grisdale, of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, writes to tell us that discarded sugar-free chewing gum is clearly unsightly but also it represents a threat to any dog that scavenges a piece because it contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener which is poisonous to dogs. She has personal experience. Her whippet ate a piece of gum while she was out on a walk with her dog in the countryside. Her dog died within 12 hours. The veterinarian told her that it was a classic case of xylitol poisoning. They said that the chewing gum was the most likely cause.

Note: I have just been reminded after a quick look on the Internet that cats are not poisoned by xylitol in the same way. This information is thanks to a study from Hungary and published in the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Chewing gum on ground
Chewing gum on ground. Photo: The Telegraph.

The RSPCA has warned dog owners that Xylitol in chewing gum can kill their pets. Alice Potter, and RSPCA behaviour and welfare expert said:

“What is okay to you to eat may not be okay for your dog or cat. Some of the more common foods like onions or chocolate many pet owners are aware of but we also need to raise awareness about the dangers of xylitol.”

Xylitol is also known as E967. It is found in gums including sugar-free gum, nicotine gum and some brands of peanut butter.

According to Dr. Nicola Robinson of the Veterinary Poisons Information Service, one pellet of chewing gum would be enough to require treatment for a small dog. She said that “Xylitol is horrible for dogs”. The manufacturers of chewing gum recently agreed to pay £2 million a year towards cleaning up the mess that their products leave on the streets of our cities and towns.

I would hope that people who chew gum are also aware of this danger to dogs. They don’t have to throw it onto the ground after they finished with it. They could wrap it up and throw it into a bin like any other decent person. Maybe this information will encourage them to do just that.

The symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include: vomiting, a sudden lowering of blood sugar, decreased activity, weakness, staggering, ataxia, collapse and seizures. xylitol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. It results in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas which is why blood sugar levels decrease rapidly. This is hypoglycaemia. It occurs as quickly as 10-60 minutes after ingesting the gum.

Depending on the amount of Xylitol ingested a dog can recover. An animal hospital might recommend keeping a dog overnight to monitor their blood sugar levels and administer medication to protect the liver. Apparently, most dogs do recover but veterinary intervention is normally required.

The treatment includes the use of liver protectants such as SAMe, milk thistle, n-acetylcysteine. They will be used for several weeks and a veterinarian will check liver enzymes frequently.

What is a toxic dose of xylitol for dogs? The Pet Poison Helpline state that at least 0.05 g per pound of bodyweight would be a toxic dose. This is 0.1 g per kilogram of bodyweight. Chewing gum typically contains 0.22-1.0 g of Xylitol per piece of gum.

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