Last week Batman ate some Orbit Sweet Mint sugarless gum. The rogue canine taught himself how to pull open the junk drawer - yes, it's the top drawer. He pulled out a box of gum from Costco, along with a bag of hinges, instructions for the thermostat, a couple of magic markers, and some pizza coupons. I don't know how many packs of gum were left in the box, but in hindsight, I don't think it could have been many.
Oh. No wonder you look so guilty. Foolish labradog, how much gum did you eat? Did you learn nothing from that emergency surgery situation? Yeah, that's right, hang your head, I'm talking about the Great Tampon Escapade, not to mention the Toothpick Incident. You'd think that would've cured you from indiscriminately snarfing down whatever you come across.
Well, when you're blowing bubbles out your ass, don't come whining to me.
But then, I thought, I'd better look this up. Just in case. And I was stunned. Orbit has an ingredient called Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol, first harvested from the bark of birch trees in Finland, and found in various fruits, vegetables, berries, even mushrooms. Xylitol has been used in Europe for some time now, but didn't find its way to the US market until about 2003. It's used in sugarless gums, candies, and in some baked goods.
Xylitol is great for humans -- it's natural, has no aftertaste, is as sweet as sugar with only 40% of the calories, and studies have proven it actually reduces cavities. Something about the way it interacts with bacteria in the mouth. It's a godsend for diabetics, as it does not require insulin to metabolize, therefore does not impact blood sugar levels. And it tastes great. There are even studies suggesting a possible use in fighting osteoporosis! Great stuff, right? So what's the catch?
The catch, for dog owners, is that it can kill your dog. And it doesn't take much. I was lucky I didn't come home to a dead dog last week, people.
Dogs metabolize Xylitol much differently than we humans do. We process the stuff slowly. Dogs' bodies metabolize it all once. Xylitol tricks the dog's body into dumping massive amounts of insulin into the system, but guess what, there's no actual sugar there for the insulin to act on. The dog's blood sugar levels plummet, and acute hypoglycemia sets in.
Within 30 to 60 minutes, a dog can present with lethargy, ataxia, seizures, and even unconsciousness. Basically a diabetic coma. If it is not addressed quickly, the dog can die.
The other problem dogs face, in addition to the hypoglycemia, is liver failure. This can be accompanied by internal bleeding, due to clotting abnormalities. Even a dog exhibiting few hypoglycemic symptoms can end up with liver damage, or even acute hepatic failure. The liver damage may not manifest until 12 - 48 hours after ingestion, and it can be permanent.
There is no antidote for canine Xylitol poisoning. The acute hypoglycemia can be countered by inducing vomiting if the ingestion is discovered quickly, and/or by administering a dextrose IV solution. However, if the hypoglycemia is not treated quickly, liver damage or failure can follow, and vets are not able to do as much for that.
If you see any of these symptoms in your dog, especially if you suspect your dog may have had access to sugarless gum, candy, or sweets, get your dog to the vet immediately:
- Weakness or lethargy
- Pale gums
- Ataxia (uncoordinated movements)
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Hypokalemia (decreased potassium)
- Liver dysfunction and/or failure
If discovered quickly, and you're sure about what your dog has ingested, you can induce vomiting using fresh hydrogen peroxide, 1tsp (5cc or 5ml) for each 10 lbs of body weight. (I've done this with Batman before, and it took 4 or 5 tsp. He weighs nearly 70 lbs. I did it with Mason once, it only took 1 tsp.) CALL YOUR VET FIRST: depending on your dog's symptoms, s/he may advise against inducing vomiting to avoid possible aspiration into the lungs, or if more than 2 hours has passed since the ingestion. Activated charcoal does not effectively absorb Xylitol in the stomach.
After hours, you can call the ASPCA 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435. They may apply a $60 charge, but you don't have time to waste if your dog has eaten this stuff. If this happens after hours, take your dog to a 24-hr emergency animal hospital. You guys know I don't say that lightly -- I know how much that costs.
What happened to Batman? He showed few symptoms, but that is apparently NOT typical. He was lethargic, but not terribly. I paid $160 to have the vet run complete blood work and liver enzymes on him, and tell me he was going to be fine. My vet said a few dogs seem to react more mildly to Xylitol than most. Apparently Batman is one of those few. I feel like he cheated death. I'd swear that dog has 9 lives.
Let me stress, that is not the norm. I read story after story on the Internets about people coming home to dead, unconscious, or seizing dogs. Dogs DIE from this. Not just a few here and there, either. Others are euthanized because the damage to the liver is too severe in the end. Some dogs are under critical care treatment for days or even a week. This is nothing to mess around with, folks. It happens fast, and it doesn't take much. A couple of sticks of some gums can kill a smaller dog. Batman is the exception - extreme illness or death are the normal results. I read about a dog named Copper who died from eating the exact same gum that Batman ate.
By all rights, Batman should've been dead by the time I got home.
Most Americans don't know about Xylitol. Many vets are still unaware of the dangers. The number of cases is rising quickly, as more and more products use Xylitol. If the owner is unaware that Rover got some Tic Tacs from the car, or snatched some gum from an open purse, those incidents get chalked up to an unknown cause, so the number of deaths is probably higher than reported.
For the record, other sweeteners like sorbitol and mannitol are not harmful to dogs. The gum Batman ate had Xylitol listed as "less than 2%", with sorbitol as the first ingredient, and mannitol also listed. Other gums, like Trident, have higher amounts. Orbit made a new line called Orbit Complete, in which the main draw is the high levels of Xylitol. Like I said, it's great for human teeth.
There is pressure on the FDA and manufacturers to use warning labels. The FDA says they're in the business of people, not animals. The manufacturers are afraid people will think the product itself is bad, when actually it's just the way dogs process it. So, no labels yet. Greedyass corporate bastards. Capitalism at its best.
So no cookies, gummy bites, muffins, mints, or gum for Fido. I'm glad we still have Batman. I read a lot of heartbreaking stories about people who lost their animals. Be careful with your canine friends, people.