Ask the Vet: Xylitol Artificial Sweetener Toxic to Dogs
Q: Hercules, the dog I recently adopted, needs to take medicine that isn't available as a chewable tablet. May I hide his pills in peanut butter and give them that way?
A: Yes, provided you use peanut butter that is free of xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in many products.
Xylitol poisons dogs two ways: It induces liver failure, and it releases insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels enough to cause loss of coordination, seizures and death. There is no specific antidote, but immediate veterinary care is often successful at saving the dog's life.
As you might expect, sugar-free gums and candies often contain xylitol. Some chocolate candies contain xylitol, though it's not always listed on the label.
Many baked goods contain large amounts of xylitol, which home bakers can buy in bulk, along with xylitol cookbooks. Vegan alternatives to many foods, including honey and barbecue sauce, contain this artificial sweetener.
Xylitol is an ingredient in many vitamin-mineral and other supplements, especially gummy products, as well as over-the-counter and prescription medications. Because it prevents tooth decay, xylitol is used in toothpaste, mouthwash and mints for dry mouth.
Surprisingly, xylitol is a component of some T-shirts and other clothing. When it's in contact with sweat or other moisture, it transforms into a cooling agent. The toxic risk in clothing is minimal, though, as most dogs are unlikely to eat a shirt.
For reasons that are unclear, xylitol is not toxic to cats or ferrets.
If you find peanut butter too messy, you can hide Hercules' pills in a meatball of canned dog food and dose him that way.
Remember to read labels, and keep all xylitol-containing products away from dogs.