xylitol in peanut butter toxicity to dogs

Raise your hand if you’ve ever fed peanut butter to your dog.

I know I have.

As a veterinarian, I’ve even recommended it from time to time. Maybe to disguise a sneaky tablet, or even to make that food-dispensing toy last a little bit longer for dogs needing an extra level of challenge.  And I know a lot of people incorporate peanut butter into yummy homemade doggy treats too.

The bad news is that peanut butter CAN kill your dog.

This is because more and more manufacturers are putting an ingredient called xylitol in their peanut butter.

And I’m scared.

This ingredient is pretty harmless to humans, and I hear has many benefits, like keeping teeth healthier – but it’s really dangerous to our furry pals.

So What on earth is Xylitol

This stuff has been used in sugar-free chewing gum for years, and is now making it’s way into many more foods because its popularity as a natural sugar substitute is increasing.  Some of the places it can be found include candy, desserts, beverages, toothpaste and mouthwash.

Oh, and peanut butter.

In dogs, xylitol has two deadly effects:

  1. It causes blood glucose to plunge dramatically, leading to life-threatening hypoglycaemia
  2. It causes liver failure.

So why does the blood glucose drop when a dog ingests xylitol?

It’s normal for insulin to be released in response to an increase in blood glucose after a meal.  It happens to all of us (except some diabetics), and allows the extra glucose in the bloodstream to be taken up by the body for energy or storage. In dogs, xylitol tricks the pancreas into thinking it is glucose, leading to a massive release of insulin into the bloodstream that is not needed…

xylitol effect on pancreas and glucose

Because xylitol is a dirty rotten liar and is not glucose at all, the insulin release is totally inappropriate and causes a precipitous drop in blood glucose (hypoglycaemia).  This can be deadly.

When dogs ingest larger amounts of xylitol, they are more likely to go into liver failure.  No one knows exactly why this happens, but I have sadly seen its disastrous consequences.  A very special little dog called Charlie did not survive his experience with xylitol.  His heartbreaking story was the catalyst for this post, and I hope it helps to spread the word about the dangers of xylitol.

What are the Signs of Xylitol Toxicity?

Dogs that eat something containing xylitol will usually vomit.

Hypoglycaemia can develop within just 15 – 30 minutes.  This might manifest as weakness, disorientation, tremors, loss of coordination, inability to rise from lying down, or seizures.

With larger doses, the signs of hypoglycaemia may not be seen at all, or may occur 24 – 48 hours after ingestion. This delayed hypoglycaemia is more likely to be due to liver failure than having anything to do with insulin secretion.
As liver failure progresses, dogs often become jaundiced. They can also lose their ability to produce clotting factors crucial for blood coagulation. This leads to signs of bleeding such as petechiae (red spots) on mucous membranes (e.g. gums), bruising, and blood in the faeces.

These signs can develop anywhere from 2 to 72 hours after ingestion of xylitol.

xylitol toxicity in dogs

How Much Xylitol is Toxic?

28 peanut butter with xylitolDogs can develop dangerous hypoglycaemia from as little as 50 mg/kg.  This equates to just half a gram of xylitol for a 10 kg (22 pound) dog.  Higher doses are usually required to cause liver failure, but death can result from hypoglycaemia alone.

Chewing gums sweetened with xylitol may contain 1 – 2 grams per piece.  This means a single piece of this gum could be lethal.

Some peanut butter brands that currently contain xylitol are Nuts’n More, Krush Nutrition, and P28.  At the time of writing the P28 brand is the only one to have released data regarding amount of xylitol in their product.  Around 50 grams of P28 peanut butter could cause toxicity in a 10 kg (22 pound) dog.

I Think my Dog ate some Xylitol. What Should I do?

xylitol toxicity in dogs advice

What is the Treatment for Xylitol Toxicity?

If it is early enough that no signs of poisoning have developed, your vet may induce vomiting.  The goal is to remove any xylitol from the system that hasn’t yet been absorbed.  Other methods of decontamination such as gastric lavage are sometimes appropriate.

Your dog may need to stay at the veterinary clinic for treatment or observation.  Dogs that have ingested a low dose of xylitol should be monitored for signs of hypoglycaemia for at least 12 hours, and more likely 24 hours.

If hypoglycaemia has developed, your vet will use intravenous fluids (a drip) that contain dextrose to keep blood glucose within a safe range while monitoring this regularly.  This can usually be followed with small frequent meals and continued blood glucose monitoring.  Blood tests for liver damage may need to be performed as well.

The aggressive treatment and continual monitoring required mean that xylitol toxicity can be a costly situation.  Unless your dog is showing signs of liver failure, the prognosis is usually good as long as he/she is receiving appropriate treatment and supportive care in a veterinary clinic. If liver failure occurs the prognosis is less favourable.

Prevention is Better than Treatment

We should never assume that something perfectly safe for humans is also safe for our furry family members.  Always check labels for the word xylitol.  If somethings says it is naturally sweetened, this could also indicate the presence of xylitol so is another red flag.  If you’re not sure about something, either don’t feed it to your dog, or call your veterinarian or pet poisons line first.

Did You Like This Post?

I have adapted this post on the dangers of xylitol from my upcoming FREE EBOOKDoggy Danger – A Guide to Common Poisons in the Home.  When it’s all shiny and finished, this informative E-book will hit the inboxes of every awesome person on my mailing list*.  It’s easy to subscribe here.

I’m really excited about this one, so sign up and get your paws on a copy!

*Edit: Doggy Danger now available, check it out!

..

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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Showing 27 comments
  • Heather
    Reply

    I first read this with such surprise – I’d never heard of this in Peanut Butter – but the brands we buy are natural and organic and they just are peanuts and oil – so i suppose its down to reading the labels, trusting the brand, and doing the research! Pretty scary though that they can add these things in to foods… Thanks

  • Linda Hinderks
    Reply

    Charlie, my pitt and I have a scoop or 2 of peanut butter ice cream everynight. Oh so good. This definitely puts a crimp in our time at night. 🙁

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      If the peanut butter doesn’t include xylitol in the ingredient list then you and Charlie don’t need to worry about this problem 🙂
      Having said that, I would save peanut butter icecream as an occasional treat for Charlie anyway, as the sugar and dairy products etc aren’t that good for dogs.

  • Sheli Hunt
    Reply

    I don’t give my dog Ginger peanut butter, but she does love to eat peanuts. I guess peanuts would be safe, nothing added.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Hey Sheli,
      Yep it’s the added xylitol in the products that is toxic. Peanuts alone will not have this effect. Thanks for visiting!

    • Mary Bowles
      Reply

      Peanuts can also be deadly.

      • Joanna Paul
        Reply

        Do you mean in terms of the fat content leading to pancreatitis? I’ve not heard of any toxicity in dogs caused specifically by peanuts, but I’d be really interested in more information.

  • Cathy Keisha
    Reply

    None of those artificial sweeteners are good for anybody. I never heard of any of those peanut butter brands which is good. We like ours natural anyhoo. I hope more dog owners learn about this.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Hi Cathy, Thanks for visiting, and I totally agree with you!
      The important distinction with xylitol is that, despite it’s artificial-sounding name, it’s a natural sugar alcohol. It’s found in a lot of things that say they are ‘naturally sweetened’, so people can be tricked.

  • Robin
    Reply

    This is so crazy! I personally don’t use any sugar substitutes and I definitely don’t give them to my kitties. I have seen elsewhere that Xylitol has a similar effect in cats though cats are less likely to get a hold of it. This is a really important message!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks Robin. A recent lecture I attended by someone from ASPCA animal poison control said there were no reported cases in cats at that stage, but I agree with you, it’s not worth the risk!

  • Tenacious Little Terrier
    Reply

    Mr. N won’t eat peanut butter but I agree it’s important to check labels!

  • Reply

    I had heard about this!!! So scary!!!!

  • Reply

    Thanks so much for this info, Dr. Jo! I knew Xylitol was toxic to dogs, but never knew exactly what mechanism of action it had on the body. Scary stuff. Like Amy said, so many homemade dog treat recipes contain peanut butter, so this is really important to be aware of. I’ll definitely be sharing this!

    And as always, love your illustrations!! 🙂

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thank you so much Camille!
      Thankfully not many peanut butters have xylitol in them – yet, but it’s certainly always worth checking the label.
      I really appreciate you sharing 🙂

  • Pawesome Cats
    Reply

    Xylitol is a dangerous ingredient that’s for sure, love the informative post and your illustrations as always!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thank you Tracy!
      Interestingly there are no reported cases of toxicity in cats, but we just don’t know.

  • Judy
    Reply

    Hi Jo – are any of these brands available in Australia or are they US brands? No matter where you live though I think it’d just be safer – for pups AND humans – to stick to the peanut butters that are 100% peanuts only. There are a couple of brands now available in the supermarket so they’re not difficult to find (and I’ve never understood why peanut butter needs sugar anyway!)

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Hey Judy,
      At this stage I’ve only been able to find US brands, but I think it’s only a matter of time, and I’ll be watching closely. What are the brands you use? I have a feeling the ones I’ve always bought are chock full of sugar – I never bothered to check! A lot of us could probably be much more deliberate about our food choices, for both our pets and ourselves!

      • Judy
        Reply

        Hi Jo, I’ve tried ‘Kraft Natural Peanut Butter (100% Nuts)’ but prefer ‘Mayver’s Peanut Butter (Natural n’ Smooth)’ both of which are available at Woolworths. I cook with mine which is why I stick to the smooth version but I’m sure the crunchy would be fine too 🙂

        • Joanna Paul
          Reply

          Fantastic, thank you so much for sharing Judy 🙂

    • Bradley Taylor
      Reply

      By no means an exhaustive search on the question of Xylitol in Australian PB products, but, there was a recent post from Kraft stating that there is not. https://www.facebook.com/kraftnuts/posts/1467960140173532

      Still an important topic, and food additives are always something to be on look out for (humans and dogs alike). Thanks for the post!

      • Joanna Paul
        Reply

        Thanks so much Bradley! Australia-specific info seems to be pretty difficult to obtain online. Might have to spend some time checking out the supermarket shelves!

  • Amy
    Reply

    Great post!! There are like 1 million Pinterest posts on yummy dog treats that contain peanut butter so this information is really useful. I don’t really give the pups peanut butter much but when I do it is the natural kind.

    I actually think this tastes really good myself too. Last week all three of us shared a teaspoon full of natural peanut butter straight outta the tub! 🙂

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      lol Amy! Did you all lick the same teaspoon?
      I love peanut butter too – but it’s gotta be crunchy 🙂

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