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Low-cal sweetener poses hazard to dogs

MIDDLEBURY — When Karen Lykins of Middlebury woke up last Saturday morning, it was to find Lily, her three-month-old Sheltie puppy, surrounded by bodily fluids on the floor. She brought the dog to the veterinarian right away, but just a few hours later, Lily had died of liver failure.
While Middlebury Animal Hospital staff did not do blood testing and were not certain of the cause of death, they did find traces of gum on Lily’s paws. Lykins said Lily exhibited symptoms resembling those of poisoning by the artificial sweetener xylitol: rapid onset of hypoglycemia, then liver failure. Lykins said members of her family chew sugar-free gum, and likely left it out where Lily could find it.
According to a 2006 article by Dr. Eric Dunayer, a veterinary toxicologist, in “Veterinary Medicine,” the artificial sweetener, which can induce the release of excessive insulin and lower blood sugar in dogs, also targets the liver in higher doses. Xylitol, which naturally occurs in low doses in tree bark and a number of fruits and vegetables, only seems to have its unusual effects on dogs — humans and rats metabolize the ingredient normally.
Xylitol is used as a low-calorie sweetener in products like gum and as an alternative to sugar for diabetics. The ingredient has also been shown to reduce bacteria levels, and it can be found in cavity-prevention products like toothpaste.
Dunayer reports that his organization, the national Animal Poison Control Center — run by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) — received an increasing number of reports of xylitol exposure in the years leading up to 2006.
Dr. Susan Hayden of Otterside Animal Hospital in Brandon said she’s never seen a confirmed case of xylitol poisoning, but that it’s a hazard she’s aware of for dogs. In cases where a dog may have ingested any product containing xylitol, she said time is of the essence.
“A dog’s blood sugar can begin dropping dangerously low within just a couple of hours, if it’s a toxic dose,” she said.
Dunayer’s article reports that a toxic dose can vary widely depending on the size of the dog and the product: While most products record “total sugars” on their labels, few specify the amount of xylitol contained in a product.
Hayden recommended immediate hospitalization in any suspected cases of xylitol poisoning, but she said the best strategy is to keep any products with artificial sweetening away from dogs.
“Dogs and puppies get into things that they shouldn’t,” she said.
Lykins, for her part, is determined to spread the word about the hazard that xylitol poses for dogs.
“We only had (Lily) for a month, and she was healthy and smart and beautiful,” she said. “We want to make sure that Lily’s death means something. If we can save another family’s dog, that means something.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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