Xylitol may be a sweet and safe sugar alternative for people, but the substance has downright sour effects on dogs. As xylitol use in everything from candy and snack foods, to shampoo and clothing, is increasing, the number of dogs suffering from xylitol toxicosis (i.e., poisoning) is rising.

To raise awareness, the Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team is equipping you with the information you need, so you can recognize this sneaky sugar substitute and protect your pet from exposure and illness.

What is xylitol and how does it affect pets?

Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that was initially popularized for its low glycemic index and sweeter-than-sugar taste. These qualities made the substance a must-have ingredient in sugar-free candy, gum, and baked goods. But, xylitol offers more than sweetness—its antibacterial, plaque-fighting, and moisture-retaining properties have led to more uses, including oral care, personal hygiene, and beauty products.

Xylitol toxicosis is well established in dogs. When dogs ingest xylitol, their insulin spikes significantly, causing hypoglycemia (i.e., their blood sugar plummets) and leading to hepatic necrosis (i.e., liver damage) and death in some cases.

Although cats are not considered at risk for xylitol toxicosis, the Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team recommends taking precautions around all pets.  

Where do pets encounter xylitol?

As more manufacturers become aware of this versatile and inexpensive ingredient, the list of xylitol-containing products continues to grow. The most common sources include:

  • Sugar-free gum
  • Sugar-free candy and mints
  • Sugar-free or keto-friendly baked goods
  • Snack foods 
  • Spreads, sauces, and condiments (e.g., peanut butter, jellies, syrup, ketchup, barbeque sauce)
  • Drink powders and water enhancers
  • Medications (e.g., flavored liquids, gummy preparations, melts)
  • Gummy vitamins and supplements
  • Personal care items (e.g., cosmetics, lotions, sunscreen, lip balm)
  • Dental care products (e.g., mouthwash, toothpaste, floss)

What is xylitol’s toxic dose for dogs?

Xylitol’s toxic dose is roughly 0.03 grams to 0.045 grams per pound of body weight, although quantities can vary drastically between products, brands, and flavors. Therefore, we recommend treating any xylitol ingestion—or suspected ingestion—as a veterinary emergency. Gather any remaining product packaging prior to calling or arriving at Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital, as label information can help our team estimate your pet’s dose and determine appropriate treatment. 

What are xylitol toxicity signs in dogs?

Xylitol-induced hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar) may appear as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion or may be delayed up to 12 hours. Hypoglycemia signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Mental dullness or depression
  • Loss of coordination
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsiveness or coma

Liver injury signs, which may take days to appear, may include jaundice (i.e., yellowing of the gums and eyelids), depression, and spontaneous bleeding or bruising. Blood work is necessary to confirm liver damage.

How is xylitol toxicosis diagnosed in dogs?

Diagnosis is relatively straightforward If you witness your pet’s ingestion or find visible evidence (e.g., chewed packaging). Your veterinarian will also use examination findings and blood work results to confirm your pet’s condition, rule out other causes, and monitor their liver function.

However, if you did not witness your pet’s exposure, your veterinarian will rely on clinical signs and lab testing to rule out other conditions that cause similar illness. 

What is the prognosis for xylitol toxicosis in dogs?

Like all toxin exposures, rapid professional intervention is necessary to prevent long-term damage. If your pet receives care before clinical signs appear, your veterinarian may induce emesis (i.e., vomiting) to prevent absorption—but you must never attempt this at home.

Hypoglycemic dogs are hospitalized for corrective treatment and close monitoring. Dogs who show no liver damage signs after 72 hours have a good prognosis. Sadly, dogs who experience significant liver enzyme increases or show visible liver failure signs have a poor outcome, despite supportive care.

What if I’m unsure that my pet ate xylitol?

As you’ve seen, the wait-and-see approach is a bad idea when dealing with xylitol ingestion. If you’re concerned that your pet was exposed to xylitol, immediately contact our team. At Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital, we are passionate about pets and proactive care—and if this means an occasional “false alarm,” that’s fine with us.  

How can I protect my dog from xylitol toxicosis?

Awareness is the first step in protecting your dog from xylitol exposure. Now that you know where this sweet-but-deadly ingredient is hiding, take preventive measures to keep it out of paws’ reach.

  • Safely store medications — Pets often consume xylitol-laced medications when they’re left out on counters or nightstands.
  • Read ingredient labels — Check all food labels—including peanut butter—before giving anything to your dog.
  • Empty pockets — Discarded laundry is a common place for leftover candy and gum.
  • Hang bags and purses on hooks — Hanging these items up high can protect their contents from nosy noses.
  • Keep gum in the glove box, not the cup holder — Cup-sized gum containers hold hundreds of gum pieces and are often mistaken for toys.

Nothing about xylitol toxicosis is sweet, but increased awareness can help limit its harmful effects. If you know or suspect your pet has consumed a xylitol product, immediately call Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital. If you need after hours assistance, call one of our neighboring veterinary emergency centers.