Canines dying from sweetener

Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 2, 2006 at 11:50 a.m.

Xylitol, a sugar substitute used in chewing gum, candy, toothpaste and other products, can kill a dog that eats it, and the frequency of cases seems to be growing.

Animal poison specialists alerted veterinarians and pet owners Saturday that cases of accidental dog poisonings are apt to be more frequent as xylitol is added to more and more human products.

A dog that consumes as little as a few sticks of chewing gum sweetened with xylitol should be taken to a veterinarian immediately, said Eric Dunayer and Sharon Gwaltney-Brant in an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

‘‘Dogs respond to xylitol differently than humans,’’ Dunayer said in a telephone interview, ‘‘and it seems to overwhelm their liver.’’

He added that a person typically absorbs about 50 percent of xylitol that has been used as a sweetener, but dogs seem to absorb almost 100 percent.

Promoted as a ‘‘natural sugar product,’’ xylitol does not stimulate peaks in insulin production that plague victims of Type II diabetes after they have consumed sugar or large quantities of carbohydrates.

There are also indications that it does not cause — and may even inhibit — tooth decay.

But when a 63-pound Welsh Springer Spaniel recently gobbled up four large chocolate muffins that contained the sweetener, the results were gruesome, said Dunayer and Gwaltney-Brant in the journal article.

After three days of bloody diarrhea, vomiting and vital signs that hovered around emergency levels, the animal died.

A 3-year-old, 70-pound Standard Poodle ate five or six cookies, became ill 24 hours later and died the next day. And a 16-pound Scottish Terrier ate 30 pieces of gum and died five days later.

A 71-pound Labrador Retriever ate a pound of xylitol powder and, after severe illness, recovered.

The two specialists at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ poison control center in Urbana, Ill., say they had three cases of xylitol poisoning in 2003, followed in 2004 by 82 cases, 193 cases last year and, during the first half of this year, 140 cases.

Veterinarians in other areas did not appear to know about the dangers of xylitol — or had not encountered cases in which dogs had been eaten it.

Spokeswomen for the Belvedere Animal Hospital in West Palm Beach and Dessau Animal Clinic in Austin, Texas, said they were not aware of any incidents of xylitol poisoning.

‘‘Clinicians should treat xylitol ingestion aggressively to avoid possible life-threatening consequences,’’ Dunayer and Gwaltney-Brant wrote. ‘‘Delaying treatment, even in a dog with no clinical signs, may increase the risk of fatal hepatic necrosis (liver damage).’’

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