Xylitol is Dangerous
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol widely used as an artificial sweetener in many foods, especially those types aimed at diabetics. It occurs naturally in fruit and vegetable fibers. However, industrial production often extracts the substance from hardwoods, such as birch.
The effect of Xylitol on humans appears to be largely benign, but on dogs, it’s a different matter entirely. Xylitol is used as a sweetener in various candies, gums and peanut butter, for example. Peanut butter is a popular treat for dogs, and useful for masking the taste of medicines. But if you give your dog even a small amount of peanut butter containing Xylitol, you could cause your pet serious damage.
In dogs, Xylitol causes the pancreas to release a sudden rush of insulin. This in turn causes a significant drop in blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia, which at best can result in your dog being dizzy, trembling, disorientated and possible having seizures. At worst, Xylitol given to dogs can cause severe liver damage and even death.
The effects of Xylitol are fast-acting in dogs too. They can begin exhibiting the effects in as little as 30 minutes, and usually within one hour. It is vital that you get your pet to a vet as soon as possible if you suspect that he or she has ingested any food containing the artificial sweetener, Xylitol.
Of course, not all brands of peanut butter contain Xylitol, and those that don’t are safe to give to your dog as an occasional treat, though you shouldn’t overdo it. Always read the label of any food you give to your dog, especially any food that is sweetened. While sugar, even in moderate quantities in food treats, is not particularly good for your dog, it won’t have the same dangerous life-threatening effects as Xylitol.
You should also keep in mind that Xylitol is not confined to peanut butter. It can be found in some gums, candies, breath mints and jams. Dogs are notorious for helping themselves to food when there is no one to see them do it. For this reason, don’t leave gum or candy lying around if it contains Xylitol. There is at least one case where a dog consumed a packet of chewing gum left lying on a coffee table. She later died because the gum contained Xylitol as an artificial sweetener.
While most of the literature about Xylitol usually points to it being safe for human consumption, consider that commercially available Xylitol is created through sugar hydrogenation. To achieve this, a catalyst is required, and with Xylitol, a powdered nickel-aluminum alloy called Raney nickel is used. The end result cannot reasonably be considered the same as the naturally-occurring substance found in fruits and vegetables. Is it really safe for humans? Well, that’s something you have to answer for yourself.
Also, the industrialized production of Xylitol has seen a shift away from extraction from birch wood to extraction from GMO corn cobs. This is a cheaper way to make Xylitol, but one that opens up a whole new set of questions. But whatever your views on hydrogenation or GMOs, always remember that Xylitol, however it is produced, is highly toxic to dogs. If you want to give your pet a sweet treat, read the food label first!