The Dangers of Xylitol

Hi everyone!

I’m aware that I haven’t been writing recently, but I have been very busy with my new puppy and taking on a new path toward a career in dental hygiene. For the past year, dental hygiene has been a serious consideration of mine and I’m finally happy to say that I am fully committed to applying to dental hygiene school at the same place where my parents received their dental educations years (and years) ago! Quite the life change, right? Right now, I am busy taking a few classes at the local university, painting commissioned art pieces, taking care of Fitz, and preparing my application for hygiene school, but I just had to get back into writing my blog. I figured that my first post back from my break needed to be about something important, and as a dog owner and prospective dental hygiene student, the dangers of xylitol is something that hits me close to home.

As the use of the sweetener and sugar-substitute, xylitol, has grown in the food industry, so has the risk of poisoning for our beloved pets. Not many people are aware of the deathly effects that xylitol has on their cats and dogs when they’re purchasing a pack of presumably healthy sugar-free gum, but that doesn’t mean they should remain ignorant about the ingredient. I feel as if it is very important to educate the public about the choices we are making and the effects they may have on the health of our best friends.

This subject unfortunately hadn’t really caught my attention until my own personal experience with the toxicity of xylitol. A few months ago, my miniature schnauzer puppy ended up at the emergency vet with no indication of what was making him so sick. After a near-death experience, weeklong stay in the hospital, and countless test results with no explanations, the doctors decided that Fitz must have gotten into some kind of toxin, such as xylitol. They explained to me that the number of emergency cases from xylitol poisoning in dogs is overwhelming and upsetting. Not only is it a common issue, but they also are often lethal.

Even though I don’t have gum or candy in my apartment, which are two of the main xylitol culprits, the doctors said that even a piece of chewed gum on the sidewalk could be detrimental. This news was very upsetting and I have since made sure to clear EVERYTHING in my home that contained any fraction of the toxin. I luckily had nothing to throw away, but the research I did about the sweetener drove me mad. I discovered that there are so many commonly bought products that are made with xylitol and most of them were things I never would’ve guessed to contain it.

Some of these items may include:

  • sugar-free candies and mints
  • sugar-free gum
  • baked goods
  • jams/jellys
  • energy bars
  • toothpaste
  • vitamins

In addition, xylitol has been advertised as having benefits for gum and tooth health. Many dentists praise the ingredient for its ability to reduce the chance of developing cavities and gingivitis; however, they must also be sure to make its detrimental effects on pets very clear when doing so. I hope to spread the word about xylitol’s dangers to various dentists and grocery stores around the area in an effort to educate consumers who may have no knowledge about it.

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A picture I took of my little guy at the vet – quite the pitiful face

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Protecting Your Pup

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This past Sunday, I was given the one of the biggest scares of my life. When reading what happened, many of you may think that I should feel pretty good if this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, but at the time, I’d never felt so helpless. On Sunday night, Father’s Day, I found myself carrying my 6-month-old puppy, Fitz, into the vet emergency hospital for the second time that day. Leading up to this moment, Fitz hadn’t been eating his food for a few days, but showed no other signs of sickness until he started vomiting that morning. I was surprised that he could even vomit at all, considering how little he had eaten, but he managed to do it about five times that day.

That afternoon, I took him to the only vet office that was open on a Sunday, which was an emergency center. The doctors gave Fitz some anti-nausea medication and fluids to give him some nourishment, and told me to keep and eye on him in hopes of improvement. However, a few hours later he vomited again, prompting me to take him back to the emergency vet. While gathering my things to take him, Fitz laid down on the hard floor away from me, which was unusual behavior for him. I noticed that he wasn’t being responsive at all, aside from his tired eyes following me around the room. Knowing that this wasn’t just tiredness from a rough day, I immediately picked him up and ran out the door, still in my pajamas. Luckily, the vet office was open for 24-hour assistance and less than a 5-minute drive from my place. When we got there, the assistant immediately carried Fitz to the back, since he couldn’t walk, and left me in the waiting room with the weight of the world pressing down on me. Seeing my puppy, who was just as significant to my life as a child would be, in that pathetic state was the most awful thing to witness. Also, not knowing how this happened and how he was doing left me in a shattered state.

When the assistant returned, she told me that his blood sugar was so low that they were surprised he was still able to stand. They were shocked by his sudden health decline, stating that “Fitz was an entirely different dog just a few hours earlier”. With no clear idea of what was going on and heavy concern for Fitz’s health, they kept him overnight on an IV to raise his blood sugar and take some tests. What I hoped would only be a nightlong episode ended up turning into a weeklong nightmare. Fitz stayed in the hospital and endured numerous tests all week. I was a mess that week, spending the days scouring the Internet for answers and crying my eyes out.

When I was finally able to take him home with a stable blood sugar level and otherwise healthy disposition, the doctors still didn’t have an answer to what happened to him. They had narrowed down their theories to a few possibilities including the ingestion of a toxin, a liver shunt, or some sort of congenital vascular system disorder. With this information, I took Fitz home with every possible cautionary step in place. I had instructions to immediately bring him back to the hospital at any sign of sickness and then a follow-up ultrasound and bile acid test to check his liver and surrounding organs again. His follow-up appointment is Thursday, and I couldn’t be more ready and nervous to see his test results. If they aren’t normal, his prognosis won’t likely be so great. I’m praying every minute and crossing every finger for good results.

Now that I know how difficult, emotional, and taxing it is to have a very sick child (or puppy), I can’t help but be the most paranoid mother out there. Dogs are the most forgiving creatures, and I feel so lucky to still have my pup giving me the most unconditional love there is. Now please, go hug your baby.

For all of you doggie owners out there, I’ve gathered a few tips on keeping your pup healthy and how to notice any signs of sickness.

Signs of sickness (other than vomiting and diarrhea):

  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Seclusion
  • Not himself/herself (ex: not excited to play or go on a walk)

Toxins (via ASPCA and Humane Society)

  • Poisonous Foods:
    • Avocado
    • Chocolate
    • Raw bread dough
    • Ethanol/Alcohol
    • Grapes and raisins
    • Hops (in beer)
    • Macadamia nuts
    • Moldy foods
    • Onions and garlic
    • Xylitol – this is a HUGE one because it’s in so many things such as sugar-free gum, candy, and many other sugar free products
    • Coffee and tea
    • Walnuts
    • Tomato leaves and stems
  • Poisonous Plants (not all listed because there are over 300):
    • Holly
    • Mandrake
    • Apple Tree
    • Apricot Tree
    • Azalea
    • Baby’s Breath
    • Begonia
    • Bird of Paradise
    • Black Walnut
    • Ivy
    • Buttercup
    • Lily
    • Carnation
    • Cherry
    • Daffodil
    • Dahlia
    • Daisy
    • Elephant Ears
    • Gardenia
    • Geranium
    • Grass Palm
    • Hibiscus
    • House Pine
    • Hydrangea
    • Mistletoe
    • Morning Glory
    • Mushrooms
    • Oleander
    • Peony
    • Periwinkle
    • Poinsettia
    • Rose of Sharon
    • Tulip
    • Wisteria
  • Other toxins:
    • Acetaminophen
    • Antifreeze
    • Batteries
    • Medications
    • Blue-green algae
    • Detergents
    • Fertilizers
    • Fluoride
    • Hand Sanitizer
    • Ibuprofen
    • Lead
    • Mouse and rat poison
    • Mothballs
    • Nicotine
    • Pesticides
    • Tobacco
    • Human vitamins and supplements

Are you guys freaked out yet? Please keep your babies safe and make sure they are protected from these things!