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Xylitol poisoning in dogs

Xylitol is highly poisonous to dogs, even in small doses. If eaten inadvertently, it can cause your pet’s blood sugar levels to plummet and, in some cases, result in liver damage.

In this article, we will look at:

  • What xylitol is and the foods that contain it
  • Why it is toxic to dogs
  • Keeping your dog safe from toxicity
  • What to do if you think your dog has ingested xylitol
  • The difference between xylitol and sorbitol

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in certain plants. It's commonly used as a sweetener and can be found in many sugar-free products. While harmless for humans, it's a different story for dogs.

Why is xylitol toxic to dogs?

When a dog eats something containing xylitol, their body mistakes it for real sugar. This triggers their pancreas to release insulin, leading to a potentially perilous drop in blood sugar levels. Liver damage is another concerning outcome, although the reason for this is not yet clear.

Even a tiny amount of xylitol can pose serious risks to dogs, as the severity of symptoms is related to the quantity ingested.

Which foods contain it?

Some common examples include:

  • Chewing gum
  • Sugar-free sweets or mints
  • Cough syrup
  • Sweeteners
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Soft drinks, jellies and jams
  • Baked goods
  • Cereals
  • Certain types of peanut butter


Can you give dogs peanut butter?

Although peanut butter is usually a tasty treat for dogs, make sure it doesn't contain xylitol. Always read the packaging carefully to avoid toxic ingredients

How do I protect my dog?

The best approach is to store products containing xylitol out of reach of your dog. Put them in high cupboards or use child locks to secure doors. Be especially careful with items like chewing gum.

Always check the ingredient list for xylitol when shopping, especially if the product is labelled as "sugar-free" or "no added sugar". Ingredients are usually listed by quantity, from highest to lowest. But even if xylitol is at the end of the list, it's still dangerous to your pet.

How do I protect my dog from toxicity?

Avoid giving them any baked goods or any of the ingredients listed above, especially if they contain sweeteners.

It’s a good idea to store these products high up, preferably in a cupboard or drawer that your dog can’t open. Be extra careful with things like chewing gum that could easily fall out of your hand and into your dog’s way.

What are the symptoms of xylitol poisoning?

Symptoms include:

If you spot any of these symptoms, get veterinary help immediately and don't wait for symptoms to appear if you know your dog’s swallowed xylitol.

What should I do if my pet is poisoned?

Remain calm, visit your vet right away and take the wrapper of whatever your dog ate with you. 

If you get your dog to the practice early enough, the vet will be able to induce vomiting to remove most of the toxic product from your dog’s stomach. Afterwards, your dog will likely be put onto an intravenous drip to stablise their blood sugar levels.

If the reaction spreads to your dog’s liver, they may require specialist treatment.

What is sorbitol?

Sorbitol is another sugar alcohol but is less toxic than xylitol. Still, it can cause stomach issues in dogs and is best avoided.

Common foods with sorbitol

Sorbitol is often found in:

  • Sugar-free gum
  • Diet drinks
  • Low-calorie or "light" yoghurts
  • Sugar-free ice cream
  • Some types of jam or jelly
  • Certain baked goods like cookies and cakes
  • Some sauces and dressings
  • Sugar-free candies

Always read labels before offering human food to your dog.

Symptoms of sorbitol poisoning in dogs

If ingested in large quantities, look out for:

Remember to consult your vet if you notice these symptoms.

What's the difference between xylitol and sorbitol?

Xylitol and sorbitol are both sugar alcohols, but they have some key differences. For humans, both are used as sugar substitutes and are found in sugar-free or "diet" products like chewing gum and sweets. They're lower in calories than regular sugar and don't cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels.

Now, when it comes to dogs, that's where the big difference lies. Xylitol is extremely dangerous for dogs. Even a small amount can cause a rapid release of insulin, leading to low blood sugar, which is a serious emergency. Sorbitol is generally considered safer than xylitol and much less toxic.

Even though Sorbitol isn't as dangerous as xylitol, every dog is different, so we wouldn't recommend feeding you dog anything with sorbitol in it. And as there are so many healthy and safe dog treats available, keeping sorbitol and xylitol out of their diet shouldn't be a problem

Do you need more info on xylitol poisoning?

If you have further questions about xylitol, or to find out more about the right peanut butter to feed to your dog, we recommend chatting to your vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.

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