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Xylitol is dangerous for dogs: 10 surprising products that contain it as a hidden ingredient

Chocolate, grapes, table scraps: There are some foods every pet parent knows you shouldn’t give to dogs no matter how cute their puppy-dog eyes are. Unfortunately, many foods contain several hidden ingredients that can be harmful to our furry friends. Take xylitol, for instance. You might not know exactly what it is, but it certainly doesn’t sound appetizing.

While it is perfectly fine for humans to ingest this ingredient, xylitol and dogs are another story. What is xylitol? Is xylitol bad for dogs? How can I find out if a food has it? We dug up some answers to help you keep your pet safe.

a bowl of white sugar-like xylitol sits in the middle of a spread of green leaves, next to pieces of birch wood

What is xylitol? What types of foods typically contain it?

You might’ve seen xylitol listed in the ingredients as a sugar substitute in many popular human foods, but odds are you’ve never seen it in a pet product. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in many fruits, vegetables, and plants — noticeably birch trees. For this reason, xylitol sometimes hides under the name “birch sugar.”

Because xylitol is a sugar and a carbohydrate, it’s often used to replace sugar or carbs in commercial “diet” foods. It’s most commonly found in sugar-free gum, mouthwash, and other oral health products because of its bacteria-killing properties.

A Labrador Retriever lies on the wooden floor next to a food bowl

Is xylitol bad for dogs? What happens if a dog has xylitol?

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed xylitol’s safety for human consumption, the same cannot be said when it comes to dogs. Unfortunately, consuming birch sugar can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels in canines, which can be fatal, according to the FDA. In humans, xylitol does not stimulate insulin creation, which is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. In canines, however, even a small amount of this sugar can trigger a large insulin release.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

Symptoms can appear anywhere from 10 minutes to 24 hours after consuming xylitol, so veterinary monitoring is necessary if you think your dog has been poisoned.

a spoonful of peanut butter sits on top of a peanut butter jar with cracked peanuts sprinkled on the table around it

What foods have xylitol? Do other household products have it?

Although foods are the most common culprit of xylitol exposure in canines, there are a few mouth-safe products you should keep away from your dog.

1. Toothpaste and mouthwash

Many dental products use xylitol because it’s low carb, low calorie, and even kills the harmful bacteria found in your mouth.

Never use human toothpaste on a pup, as xylitol and other ingredients are not safe for our four-legged friends. Instead, opt for a toothpaste meant for dogs — which probably tastes better to them anyway.

When it comes to ingredients and snacks, these are the foods to look out for:

2. Chocolate and candy

As if you needed another reason to keep your furry friend away from chocolate, it can also contain hidden artificial sweeteners like xylitol. Candies don’t always list which sweetener they use, either, so better safe than sorry.

3. Sugar-free chewing gum

This silent killer is the most frequently reported source of xylitol toxicity in dogs. It doesn’t take much for a curious canine to root through someone’s handbag for a snack, which means it also doesn’t take much for a dog to get seriously sick if that snack happens to be your pack of gum.

You have plenty of xylitol-free chewing gums available for purchase if you stop to read the label, so this certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have gum anymore.

4. Meal replacement shakes

Because xylitol has become a popular sugar substitute, it’s often found in meal substitutes like protein shakes. It would take a large amount of sugar to properly sweeten a drink the size of an average shake, so using an artificial sweetener helps manufacturers and customers avoid extra calories.

5. Powdered drinks

While the popular brand Crystal Light tends to use aspartame rather than xylitol and therefore isn’t an extreme risk to your dog, many other companies do use the dangerous sugar alcohol for drink-flavoring or in powdered electrolytes. Always read the label before you buy.

6. Peanut butter

This is another ingredient that’s been making headlines as a danger to pets, especially because dogs tend to love peanut butter. The good news is that many major brands of peanut butter, such as Skippy and Jif, do not use xylitol in any of their products, but jars with words like “natural sweetener” and “sugar-free” on the label most likely do. Keep an eye out for that, birch sugar, and xylitol.

7. Flavored gelatin

This one might be more of a surprise to pet parents, but many flavored gelatin products are chock-full of artificial sweeteners, including xylitol. The same can be said for pudding products, too, unfortunately, especially if they’re sugar-free.

Here’s the catch: Unflavored, unsweetened gelatin is safe (and perhaps even healthy) for your dog. It’s 99% protein on its own and can be safely combined with any other canine-friendly ingredients — even food coloring.

8. “Skinny” ice cream

You might feel better about indulging in this diet dessert, but your dog certainly will not. As enticing as they may be by the flavors and smooth texture, “light” ice creams often contain these toxic artificial sweeteners. Instead, treat your pup to some Frosty Paws, a doggie ice cream formulated by Purina, a trusted canine food brand with top safety standards.

9. Nonfat or sugar-free yogurt and Greek yogurt

While ice cream may be a more obvious suspect, its cousins, yogurt and Greek yogurt, can be hiding xylitol as well. Watch for label keywords like “nonfat” that don’t directly imply but can include swapping out sugar for xylitol.

10. Condiments

Think twice — or at least read the label — before sharing that last piece of hamburger with your dog. Many condiments contain xylitol even if they’re not labeled as “sugar-free,” so you can’t be too careful.

Xylitol is perfectly safe for humans but harmful to dogs. Be careful before you feed any people food to your pet — and be sure to read the labels.

What should you do if your dog ingests xylitol? When should you call for help?

According to VCA Hospitals, you should call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 immediately if your know or think your dog has ingested xylitol. VCA Hospitals also advises against making your dog vomit or giving anything to your dog without consulting your veterinarian.

A dog with big brown eyes looks up from an empty food dish in front of them

Some final thoughts on dogs and xylitol: Better to be safe than sorry

When it comes to xylitol, you can never be too cautious. Even a small amount can be highly toxic to your pup, so you’ll want to be sure they can’t get access to things like gum, mouthwash, candy, and other sugar-free human foods. If you have children, be sure that they also understand that there are certain foods that should never be shared with their furry friends, which will help ensure that your dog stays safe, sound, and xylitol-free.

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