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A beautiful, yellow-eyed cat receiving treatment. Doug Hall feeding a well-loved client.

Paws for thought- Article 2

28th February 2019

 

Xylitol poisoning- a case study

 

Xylitol is a sweetener which is commonly found in chewing gum and sugar free confectionary cakes and soft drinks. It doesn't sound too dangerous when we think about it being associated with these delicious sweet treats, but sadly for our dogs, xylitol is incredibly poisonous and can even be fatal as it causes hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and even liver failure at higher doses.

 

We are actually currently treating one of our patients, Gemma, for xylitol toxicity, after their owner realised that she'd got hold of half a packet of chewing gum this morning. Luckily, her owner acted really quickly as she noticed that she seemed a bit weak and so brought her straight to us. She had very low blood sugars when she arrived, but with a glucose drip and supportive treatment she is already starting to recover. Thankfully, she has not consumed enough xylitol to cause more serious long-term effects but low blood sugar in itself can be acutely life-threatening. Just to give you an idea of how little they have to consume for there to be serious consequences, if a 5kg dog had eaten this 1/2 pack of chewing gum, it would have been fatal.

 

Sadly, not every dog is as lucky as lovely Gemma. An article was recently brought to our attention highlighting the sad reality of the loss of a beloved pet after they ingested xylitol and we felt that it is our responibility to raise awareness on this current issue, so that hopefully we can prevent this happening to any other dogs.

 

Why is xylitol poisonous?:

In comparison to most other mammals, ingestion of xylitol in dogs triggers an insulin release which can even be more extreme than the response to the equivalent amount of glucose. This insulin release is inappropriate and therefore causes a dramatic hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). This can lead to vomiting, weakness and in some cases convulsions and coma.

 

As well as this rapid drop in blood glucose, at high levels xylitol is also toxic to the liver. Therefore without immediate treatment post ingestion of xylitol, we can see liver failure which is irreversible.

 

What to do if your dog ingests anything containing xylitol:

It doesn't take much xylitol to cause toxicity- even 2 pieces of chewing gum could potentially be a serious issue. We advise that you contact us immediately so that we can arrange to see your pet as soon as possible.

 

If you can, please bring any packaging with you so we can work out how much has been ingested and the appropriate treatment plan. This will involve checking their blood glucose levels, and supplementing glucose as needed. We also induce emesis (empty the stomach) so that we can try and prevent any further absorption. If they have eaten enough to potentially cause liver toxicity, they may be kept in on a drip for longer, and given supplements to support the liver function.

 

The earlier we start treatment, then higher chance of success we have in treating your pet. If you have any concerns, we always recommend that you phone us for advice on 01483 538990.

 

We are continuing to monitor Gemma, and wish her a speedy recovery.

 

Catherine Hannah BVSc MRCVS

References: BSAVA, VCA hospitals, Veterinary Medicine DVM

 

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