July 27, 2021

The scary effects of sugar-free gum

The scary effects of sugar-free gum
Dr. Chris Brown

The sudden and tragic death of Harper after raiding a bin and eating sugar free gum should be a wake-up call. Here’s why an ingredient in this type of chewing gum is so dangerous…

Harper was just 3 years old when she, like so many other dogs (and yes…labradors) raided her family’s garbage bin and found some sugar free gum. One of its ingredients was xylitol. Unfortunately, consuming this ingredient in a sufficient amount kicked off a whole range of effects that ultimately led to Harper passing away from liver failure just a few days later.

Here’s what xylitol does to dogs. First of all, it tricks their body into thinking they’ve just ingested a lot of sugar. As a result, their pancreas floods their body with insulin to lower the blood glucose level. Unfortunately because there’s no sugar there it leads to a sudden onset of hypoglycaemia with vomiting, staggery walking (like they’re drunk), weakness, tremors and even collapsing the early signs to look out for. Sadly, xylitol is also impacting the liver at this time causing a major toxic effect. Lethal liver failure can occur just 1-3 days later. There’s no antidote for xylitol toxicity and supportive care in the hope the liver can recover is all that can be offered.

How much xylitol is toxic? It seemingly doesn’t take a lot to cause problems. Around 0.1g of xylitol per kg of your dog’s body weight is considered a toxic dose. But here’s the challenge. The amount of xylitol in pieces of sugar free chewing gum is highly variable between brands so even one piece can be a toxic amount for a small dog.

So what can you do to avoid this? If you have a dog, avoid every day products containing xylitol. And don’t leave any remnants in bins that can be raided late at night. Chewing gum is probably the biggest offender however some other ‘sugar free’ products may also contain the ingredient. Interestingly, amongst the major ‘sugar free’ gum brands within Australia, some use xylitol and some don’t. You’ll only know if you check the ingredient list…

If you think your dog has consumed xylitol, don’t delay seeing your vet. It sends their system haywire within minutes…

There have been no reports of toxicity in cats yet it’s not known if that’s just from a lack of bin raiding.

I hope that helps. It’s incredible how little is known in the broader community about this ingredient. Especially when you compare the extreme vigilance and fear of chocolate which by dose and eventual effect, is probably less dangerous.

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