By Jennifer Ladd Explore Big Sky Contributor
Last month, a 2-year-old golden retriever in Glenwood City, Wisc., lost her life after eating chewing gum containing a product called Xylitol. So what is the real story? Can chewing gum really kill your dog?
The short answer is, yes. The long answer is, well, it depends. Most chewing gums contain Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in many products. What makes it so dangerous to our canine friends, and not humans, is how quickly it’s absorbed into their blood stream. In less than 30 minutes, it enters their blood, circulating throughout their bodies, and causing a massive release of insulin, which in turn causes cells to take up glucose.
Although that sounds complicated, it just means your pet may become extremely hypoglycemic, or low in blood sugar. You know those long days in the mountains when you really need a Snickers bar? Well, that’s magnified with Xylitol poisoning. It’s much worse.
Symptoms include mental dullness, seizure, and death. Some dogs won’t experience pronounced hypoglycemia, but that does not mean they’re out of the woods. In fact, the true, silent killer is what’s happening to their liver the days after ingestion.
Acute liver failure, 12-24 hours after ingestion, can begin to occur through hepatic necrosis – the liver begins to die slowly, quickly losing function. In the majority of cases, once hepatic necrosis occurs, the damage is irreversible. Sadly, the next step is often humane euthanasia.
There is no antidote to Xylitol, so if you suspect your dog has eaten a pack of gum or other Xylitol-containing products, the best thing to do is get them to a veterinarian immediately. The vet can induce vomiting, administer charcoal to absorb the toxin, provide fluids, and monitor liver enzymes. If you’re more than 30 minutes from a veterinarian, you can orally administer 3 percent hydrogen peroxide at a dose of 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of body weight, but not exceeding 3 tablespoons.
This method is not an ideal way to induce vomiting, but it’s better than allowing the toxin to absorb during the trip to the vet. Remember to bring towels to protect your car for what is guaranteed to be a messy ride.
As with any toxin, the time and amount of exposure is key to the prognosis. If you’re unsure whether the amount of toxin ingested is worth a visit to the veterinarian, you can call the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control. Every pet owner should have this is a number programed into their phone.
Whether your dog has gotten into chocolate, raisins, rodenticide, or other common toxins, call poison control. They will have you immediately consult their 24-hour veterinarians who are specialized in toxicology. These vets are incredibly knowledgeable about brands of common toxins, calculating the lethal dose for your pet, and can even take into account how long since they ingested it relative to your animal’s size and age.
Trust me, it’s worth the $65 consultation fee. After all, when my own dog ate an entire pack of Xylitol-containing gum, they were the first people I called on the way to the vet.
Visit aspca.org for additional information on common toxins, and call ASPCA Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 in case of emergency.
Jenny Ladd DVM, CVA is a small animal veterinarian practicing in Bellingham, Wash. Her primary interest is integrative veterinary medicine utilizing herbal therapies and acupuncture.