As a pet owner, you naturally want to spoil your furry friend with plenty of love, treats, and toys. But, some treats can threaten your pet’s health. With a general shift to sugar-free foods, a common human food given as a special snack to dogs—peanut butter—is now becoming an issue. Despite the absence of sugar, peanut butter sweetened with xylitol can pose a serious threat to your dog’s health. Originally found in sugar-free gum, xylitol, which has been popping up in more food products and items, such as toothpaste, sugar-free desserts, candies, and peanut butter—your dog’s favorite—can be deadly for your beloved companion. To help illustrate xylitol toxicity severity in dogs, let’s read about a pet owner who wanted only the best for her dog, but didn’t read the fine print. 

Paisley’s peanut butter poisoning

Paisley is a pampered princess of a pooch, and her owner always wants to do what’s best for her precious girl. This small ball of fluff spends her days at the grooming salon, in her special chair, and occasionally in her owner’s purse, as she runs errands. Paisley is such an important part of her owner’s life, that her owner always keeps stocked up on tasty treats for her pup, because she never wants her dog to feel alone or unwanted when she leaves the house. 

Recently, while shopping to replenish Paisley’s treat stash, her owner discovered a new brand of Paisley’s favorite snack—peanut butter. “Oh, this brand is sugar-free. That’s a great choice for my girl, especially since I’ve noticed her getting a little chubby.” Into the cart went the peanut butter, along with fresh green beans, apples, broccoli, and a few gourmet dog treats. 

The next day, Paisley’s owner had to run to the post office to mail a package. She’d be gone for only a brief time, so she thought it was the perfect opportunity to try Paisley’s Kong stuffed with her new, sugar-free peanut butter. 

Arriving home less than an hour later, Paisley’s owner immediately went to snuggle her beloved pooch. “Oh, no!” she gasped in horror. Paisley had vomited on the rug in front of her favorite chair, and was too weak to get up unaided. Paisley’s owner helped her to her feet, but she kept wobbling back and forth, and sinking back to the floor. 

Horrified for her beloved companion, Paisley’s owner immediately contacted our Mill Creek Animal Hospital team. After learning that Paisley had ingested sugar-free peanut butter not long ago, we advised her owner to hurry over, bringing the peanut butter jar.

On arrival, Paisley was still weak, and unable to walk well unassisted, so we rushed her to our treatment area to begin diagnostic testing and treatment. Based on her history, and a close inspection of the peanut butter jar, we had a hunch about the cause of Paisley’s problem. After seeing her blood work results, we were sure that she had suffered from xylitol toxicity. Paisley was severely hypoglycemic, which is the most common issue with xylitol toxicity. 

Since Paisley was so weak and unable to coordinate her body well, we did not induce vomiting, as we did not want her to choke or aspirate. With such a low blood sugar level, we promptly placed an intravenous (IV) catheter, and bolused IV dextrose to boost her sugar. While Paisley was hospitalized, we monitored her blood glucose every one to two hours, to ensure it remained in the appropriate range, aided by the dextrose infusion. 

After 36 hours of intensive nursing care, Paisley was able to regulate her blood sugar on her own. As we monitored her glucose level, we also kept an eye on her liver enzymes, since xylitol can lead to liver failure. Fortunately, no liver-enzyme elevations appeared on Paisley’s blood panel, and we sent her home with her owner, with strict instructions to read ingredient lists and avoid xylitol in the future. 

Beware sugar-free products for your dog

Xylitol toxicity can be scary for dog owners, since it causes such a rapid drop in blood glucose, as in poor Paisley’s case. Half an hour after ingestion, xylitol can cause a speedy blood sugar drop, leading to weakness, ataxia, vomiting, depression, seizures, and coma. Dogs who ingest large amounts of xylitol can also suffer from liver failure, but liver-associated issues of clotting problems, vomiting, and icterus often don’t appear until 24 to 48 hours after ingestion.

Prevent xylitol toxicity in your dog by carefully reading package labels. A sugar-free item may say “sweetened naturally” or that “natural sweetener” is used. It’s a common misconception that xylitol is an artificial sweetener, but it’s not. Xylitol is naturally found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, so if you see those terms, look deeper to see if xylitol is listed. Xylitol is also classified as a sugar alcohol, so avoid products that contain unidentified sugar alcohols.

Are you worried about other toxins that may be lurking in your pet’s favorite snacks? Contact our office for advice on pet-friendly foods, and which ones you need to avoid.