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November 04, 2015 08:30 PM

Many know chocolate is toxic to dogs, but there is a sweet substance that is far more sinister for canines: xylitol.

This sugar substitute, often used in gum, is 100 times more toxic to dogs than chocolate, reports The Wall Street Journal

The sweetener, which is safe for human consumption, is starting to show up in more foods, but the awareness of its danger to dogs still remains low. This ignorance on the part of pet owners is leading to a “dramatic increase” in accidental dog poisonings. 

“There are still a lot of dog owners who have never heard of xylitol, nor do they understand that something this benign, an ordinary sweetener, could be toxic to pets,” Dr. Ahna Brutlag, senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline, told WSJ

Because xylitol-related poisonings are relatively new, there is no data on how many dogs die each year because of the sweetener, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious problem. The ASPCA’s poison center received 3,727 calls, with at least 11 fatalities, about xylitol last year and suspect that many other poisonings went unreported. 

Xylitol causes a sudden release of insulin in canines which can lead to seizures, liver failure, brain damage and death. Dogs can unknowingly consume the toxic substance by chowing down on gum, mints, gummy vitamins, sleep aids, some peanut butters, toothpaste and baked goods. 

To help owners protect their pets, animal lovers are calling for companies to change the labels of their products to make it clear when something contains xylitol, but until that happens it is up to dog owners to carefully check food labels for mentions of the sugar substitute and make sure those products don’t enter their homes or stay far out of reach for their canines. 

Veterinarians are unsure if xylitol is toxic to other pets, like cats, because of low data, but they do think the sweetener could be a problem for cattle. 

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