Last Updated on: January 29, 2024
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.
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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:
It causes blood glucose to plunge dramatically, leading to life-threatening hypoglycaemia. 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…
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.
How Much Xylitol is Toxic?
Dogs 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?
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.