An Oregon veterinarian is waging an educational campaign to inform dog owners about the dangers posed to their pets by xylitol, a sugar alcohol-derived sweetener with one-third the calories of regular sugar that is being used in some nut butter products. Dr. Jason Nicholas of The Preventive Vet in Portland, OR, may be making headway since he said that his recent blog post about the issue has attracted nearly 500,000 visitors. “My biggest concern with this and what prompted me to write this article is that awareness is crucial,” he said. Most dogs like peanut butter and seem to enjoy licking it off a spoon or trying to get it out of a rubber toy. However, xylitol is extremely toxic to them, Nicholas said, and there are no warning labels on the products alerting pet owners about the problem or telling them how much xylitol the product contains. The nut butter products using xylitol for sweetening are not like regular peanut butter but are actually high-protein nut butter spreads with added whey protein isolate and flax seeds, chia seeds and other ingredients. They include P28 peanut spread from a company in Syracuse, NY, Nuts ‘N More from Providence, RI, and Krush Nutrition’s Nutty by Nature brand from Wellington, FL. “The thing with all of these is that they seem oriented toward the nutrition, health food, muscle-building crowd,” Nicholas said. It takes very little xylitol to create serious problems for a dog. Ingestion causes a massive surge of insulin release much more than from the same amount of sugar, he said. “That surge of insulin drops blood sugar and causes hypoglycemia and, as a result of hypoglycemia, there’s not enough glucose in the blood and it causes weakness, ataxia (like staggering or drunk walking), and can cause collapse and, because the brain isn’t able to get the energy it needs, it can cause seizure and coma,” the vet said. His blog post and the table posted here indicate the scope of the problem:
- Ingestion of as little as 0.1 gram (g) of xylitol per kilogram (kg) of body weight (0.1 g/kg) can cause a rapid and dangerous drop in a dog’s blood sugar (a condition called “hypoglycemia”). Hypoglycemia can show as staggering, appearing disoriented, collapse, weakness, and seizures.
- Just slightly more than that, approx. 0.5 g/kg xylitol ingestion, can lead to debilitating, and sadly often deadly, destruction of a dog’s liver cells.
However, if the situation is recognized and caught early and appropriate therapy is instituted, most dogs that get hypoglycemia will do fine, he added, unless the particular dog is elderly, has epilepsy, diabetes, or some other pre-existing condition that might complicate things. Other common household products containing xylitol that dogs may ingest are sugarless gum, mints, chewable vitamins, toothpastes and mouthwashes, and sugar-free baked goods. “If a 20-pound dog gets into some Advil or something, we know what the dosage is. With xylitol in a product like this, we don’t know and have to assume the worst,” Nicholas noted. The worst can involve thousands of dollars in vet bills because a dog had to be hospitalized for treatment. But if the pet owner called a poison control center or a vet within an hour of the dog ingesting a xylitol-containing product, it’s possible that the situation might be averted. Krush Nutrition has posted this warning on its website: “Xylitol, which is a natural sugar alcohol, is safe in humans. We ask that you please keep all xylitol and xylitol-containing food products out of reach from dogs. Even small amounts can be toxic to dogs. If you do, however, suspect your dog has ingested a xylitol-containing food, we suggest you immediately contact your local veterinarian.” Nicholas said it shows the company is aware of the problem and “is at least doing something.” However, he said it won’t do much good for people shopping in a store. His hope is that such manufacturers, whether under a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirement or not, will put a warning on their products to show that they care about pets. FDA issued a consumer warning about the issue in 2011, and Nicholas said it would be good if label warnings were required “now that more products are having xylitol in them.” Generally, he said it’s OK to give peanut butter to dogs in small amounts as an occasional treat. “Every now and again, if I’m making a peanut butter sandwich and my dog comes over, I might give her what’s left on the knife — not with xylitol, though,” Nicholas said. However, it’s not advisable to give nut butters to a dog that’s overweight, or to one that has a sensitive stomach, due to the risk of pancreatitis and obesity. He said the best advice for a pet owner is to carefully read ingredient labels and not to assume that what is safe for humans is also safe for pets.