By Jenny Ladd ExploreBigSky.com Veterinary Expert

I returned home the other night to find the remnants of gum wrappers scattered around the living room, four guilty culprits cowering in the corners of the room.

My dogs don’t typically rummage through the garbage – or in this case dig a pack of gum out of my bag – but nevertheless, here we were. As a veterinary student nearing graduation, I should know to be more careful, but that is what makes this relevant and important to the health of my animals and yours. The active ingredient in sugar free gum, Xylitol, is 100 times more toxic to animals than chocolate, yet it’s something common in our homes and around our animals.

I reached for the 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and gave each of the four dogs a tablespoon. Hydrogen peroxide is caustic on the stomach, and will frequently make a dog vomit. In the hospital we use more direct emetics, or vomit-inducing agents, that work on a neurological level, but hydrogen peroxide is a good thing to have on hand at home.

Two of the dogs vomited – no gum so far, so the culprit was still at large. Given the rapid toxic effects of Xylitol, we loaded them in the truck and off to the hospital we went. While waiting for the emergency veterinarian to arrive, the remaining two began to vomit, and voila, there was a 2-inch diameter mass of gum.

In this instance, the amount of gum indicated that we got the majority of it, and quickly too, so the possible absorption was likely minimal. After consulting with the veterinarian, we decided to bring everyone home and keep an eye on the culprit through the night.

The risk with xylitol is severe hypoglycemia and liver damage, which happen quickly and dramatically, the xylitol causing a release of large amounts of insulin. As in humans, insulin helps with absorption and metabolism of glucose from the blood.

Too much insulin, as in this case, causes glucose to be removed from the blood at a very high rate, leading to a severe hypoglycemic event. This may appear as bizarre behavior, seizures, stupor or coma.

The scary thing about xylitol toxicity is that clinical signs can have a quick onset, or they can be delayed a number of days. Death of liver cells may not show clinical signs until a few days after ingestion, and are irreversible. Additionally, it can have permanent long-term effects on the liver and can cause death.

No matter how careful we are, accidents happen. Part of the responsibility of owning pets is caring for them, loving them, and looking out for them even when their behavior is less than ideal.

Wishing you and your pets health and happiness, xylitol free!

Jenny Ladd is a fourth year veterinary student at Oklahoma State University, and a certified Veterinary Acupuncturist currently living in Stillwater, Ok. with her boyfriend and four dogs.

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The most common toxins for dogs and cats

Foods: avocado, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, xylitol (found in gum) and chocolate (the darker the chocolate the more toxic)

Household products: cleaning products, antifreeze, prescription and over the counter medication

Insecticides and herbicides: Rodenticides, heartworm and flea and tick preventative overdose

Plants: lilies, azaleas, kalanchoe, rhododendron, sago palm and schefflera.

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Resources and advice

1) Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435. Open 24 hours a day, it answers questions and offers treatment advice.

2) Call your local veterinarian immediately. Do not wait until the morning.

3) Collect samples. Bring samples of the ingested product, scraps and all, to the veterinary office. Also, if you induce vomiting, bring a sample of that, as well. Although unpleasant, it can be very useful if the toxin remains a mystery.

4) Most of all, stay calm.

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Initiating vomiting

Many toxins have such serious effects, a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting is recommended while preparing for a trip to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital. This is a stopgap, not a replacement for veterinary care, and should only be done after a call to your veterinarian and Animal Poison Control. Too much hydrogen peroxide can cause violent vomiting, and should be used cautiously.

If your pet has ingested a foreign body like a toy, a sock or a stick, however, do not induce vomiting. This instance is also an emergency, but vomiting can cause more harm. Again, call your veterinarian, and get your pet to the nearest hospital immediately.