An Oregon veterinarian is expanding efforts to get the word out that a sugar alcohol-derived sweetener used in an increasing number of foods poses a serious, and potentially fatal, threat to dogs. Dr. Jason Nicholas of Portland (Preventive Vet) has posted a list of products containing xylitol, along with two online petitions seeking warning labels from manufacturers and related action from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).“We’re approaching 200 [signatures] on the manufacturer’s one and close to 150 on the FDA one,” Nicholas told Food Safety News. “The more people we can get on board, the better. We’re making some headway, both from pet owners and from vets, who are really eager for this to happen.”

Xylitol, which has about one-third the calories of regular sugar, is being used in an ever-expanding list of food and other products. These products include five brands of peanut and other nut butters, four brands of chocolate, some “sugar-free” or “sugarless” ice creams and yogurts, chewable vitamins, “sugarless” gum, a long list of body, face and home care products, and many more. People often give peanut butter, or other nut butters, to dogs as a treat, and pets occasionally get into the other listed items, especially those with a sweet taste. Nicholas noted in an Aug. 6 update that some headway had recently been made in reaching out to the five nut butter manufacturers to encourage awareness of the problem on their product packaging and websites. These include Go Nuts Co., Hank’s Protein Plus Peanut Butter, Krush Nutrition, Nuts ‘N More, and P28. “While these are ‘specialty butters’ that are mostly sold in nutrition stores and online (currently), the subtle presence of xylitol in these butters definitely highlights the importance of reading ingredient labels on products you bring into your home, and especially doing so prior to sharing anything with your pets and if your pets ever get into anything they shouldn’t have. Please don’t assume that things which are safe for you are also safe for your pets,” he wrote. dogwishbone-406Krush Nutrition has posted this warning on its site:

  • Xylitol and Dogs 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.

In an Aug. 9 update, Nicholas wrote that Nuts ‘N More had added a new warning about xylitol and dogs on the FAQ section of their website: “The even bigger news is that they have agreed to add a ‘not for pets’ warning on all of their xylitol-containing product labels, and they have also agreed to disclose the amount of sugar alcohol per serving on the new labels! This is great awareness and will help tremendously, both to keep these products out of the mouths of dogs and also to aid in the treatment of those dogs who do get access. We have been assured that the new labels should start showing up on store shelves and their website in the next couple of months.” The petitions, which just went online this week, request that manufacturers of products containing xylitol add that information to packaging and websites and encourage FDA to mandate such actions if manufacturers don’t do so voluntarily. The petition to manufacturers describes the problem this way:

PV-Chocolate-vs-Xylitol-Gum-3-Dogs copy
Graphic courtesy of Preventive Vet.
“In dogs, ingestion of as little as 0.1 gram of xylitol per kilogram body weight (0.1g/kg) — a truly tiny dose — can cause a rapid and life-threatening drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), resulting in staggering, seizures, coma, and even death. While a dog unfortunate enough to ingest just 0.5g/kg — still a very small dose — is at risk of suffering from acute hepatic necrosis, a devastating, expensive, and frequently fatal form of liver failure.” The petition to FDA mentions the agency’s 2011 warning to the public about xylitol and dogs: “The 2011 FDA consumer warning about xylitol was a welcome acknowledgement of the hazard and a nice start. For that, we thank you. But now xylitol is even more commonplace in the market and reported cases of xylitol toxicity in dogs have steadily climbed every year since the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA-APCC) started tracking such cases in 2007. In that initial year, ASPCA-APCC received 1,764 xylitol-related calls, whereas in 2014 they handled 3,727 xylitol calls. “That’s a 210% increase in cases and means that there’s now an average of over TEN dogs eating and being sickened or killed by xylitol every day! And these are just the cases that get called into ASPCA-APCC, there are other animal poison control hotlines and many cases either never make it to the vet or are treated by vets who don’t call animal poison control.”

Nicholas said he regularly sees dogs with xylitol exposure at his veterinary clinic, but it’s likely that many cases are never called in and that some affected dogs aren’t taken in for treatment.

“A lot of vets know about xylitol toxicity and they know how to treat it,” he said, adding, “I’d wager a guess that [the incidence is] probably three times that. It’s already prevalent and will get more prevalent because of all the products out there with xylitol in them.”

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