We have been informed these last days about some news that appeared at the papers about a dog which died after eating some sweets containing xylitol. Sadly, this is not the first time we have read something like this. Xylitol is a very popular sweetener which is used regularly in lots of products: sweets, chewing gum, cupcakes and even toothpaste and mouthwash. Xylitol can also be purchased in order to create our homemade sugarless sweets.

The big difference (in people) between sugar and xylitol is the sweetener is tolerated by diabetic people and can be a good alternative for a low calories diet. When ingesting a big quantity it may have a moderate laxative effect which is not dangerous for people. But in case of dogs, xylitol may be a problem since it’s not metabolized the same way people do. Canine pancreas, unlike human one, reacts against xylitol by producing a massive releasing of insulin to the bloodstream, producing severe (and even mortal) hypoglycaemia. It looks like canine pancreas is unable to see the difference between sugar and xylitol.

So, symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs are hypoglycaemia ones: collapsing, vomiting, losing consciousness, etc. Diagnosing hypoglycaemia is very easy; the difficult part is finding out the cause of the problem since it’s very uncommon in an adult and healthy dog, so, in this case, a good information from the owner about what the dog has eaten becomes critical: the slightest suspect about the dog may have eaten (or licked) something containing xylitol must make the Vet perform a blood glucose test immediately, and if the levels are lower than normal, we have the diagnosis and an effective treatment can be established, so, xylitol is not a mortal poison when caught into time.

Most dogs are greedy: they love eating or drinking things which taste sweet, and this may be a serious problem since it can make them eat or drink high (and dangerous) quantities of things like sweets containing xylitol, cupcakes, medicines for children which taste sweet, specially syrups, fruit alcoholic liquors, and even engine radiator coolant liquid containing propylene glycol, which is not very toxic, but its good and sweet taste make dogs drink big quantities which virtually cremate the kidneys.

Chocolate deserves a special mention. Cocoa contains theobromine, which is toxic for dogs and cats, and may also be toxic for people, but in this case only when eating a really high quantity. As the great physician Paracelsus said: “the dosage is the only thing that makes a substance be a poison”. But pure cocoa (90% richness or higher) is still not very common in Spain, and this is the guilty of most chocolate poisoning in pets. Milk chocolate is much more common in Spain, and it contains much less theobromine than pure cocoa, but, due to its high levels of sugar and sweeteners, it’s not recommended for pets in any way.

Another non-toxic food for people such as garlic and onions may be toxic for pets since they may destroy the red blood cells. Of course, this is not going to happen when eating a small piece of garlic, but it may happen if a greedy dog eats a big quantity of roasted or fried onion, which have a sweet taste.

Apart from this, some useful medicines for people may be toxic for pets, the same way a useful medicine for ONE people may be toxic for ANOTHER people. We should never give human medicines to a pet unless they are prescribed by a Vet, because, even if they can be used successfully in pets, the dosage may be completely different to the one for people, even if we are talking of the dosage for a human baby whose weight is similar to the weight of a dog or cat. This is especially important in case of anti-inflammatories such as paracetamol or aspirin, which can be toxic for dogs and cats even when giving a low dosage.

Finally, we would like to mention substances, which are innocuous for people and toxic for pets, but not by ingestion: 

  • Fumes from non-stick pans can be lethal for birds, so it’s not a good idea to keep birdcages at the kitchen.
  • Some anti-parasitic treatments can be fatal for reptiles, since they are evolutionarily closer to parasites than to dogs and cats. If your reptile suffers from parasites, ask the Vet, because we know which treatments are not dangerous for those species.

Liliana Aldeguer Cerdán Col 793

English translation by Sergio Reina Esteban Col 747