Xylitol can pose dangerous, deadly risk to pets

Artificial sweetener found in baked goods, gum, toothpaste

ORLANDO, Fla. - We all feed our dogs and cats human food from time-to-time. But this will make you stop and think the next time you want to give them a snack.

Doctors now have a new warning about Xylitol -- an artificial sweetener that's found in gum, toothpaste, and is also used to bake desserts. You can buy it at any grocery store in Central Florida, and the number of accidental poisonings is on the rise.

Local 6 recently spoke to Judith Topper, a Lake Mary woman whose 4-year-old American Dingo, Bailey, died in February from Xylitol poisoning.

"She had a real live personality, like she lit up the room and kept things going," says Topper.

Bailey was happy and healthy, until she snacked on the wrong thing.

"I had decided to make a cake out of Xylitol," says Topper. "I made this great cake, and she ate it. I had no idea that Xylitol was toxic. Toxic, totally lethal."

Within two days of eating that cake, Bailey was dead.

"I'd sit on the floor with her, and she'd come over closer to me, and she would look up at us like, can you help me please?" says Topper. "I felt guilty. I was the one that bought it, I was the one that made the cake."

Heartbreaking stories like that are more common than you think. According to the ASPCA, there were nearly 3,200 Xylitol poisonings across the country last year. That's up nearly 800 from 2009.

"If dogs do get into it, it can potentially be life threatening," says Dr. Kristin Olsen, a veterinarian with Affiliated Veterinary Specialists in Maitland. "Probably greater than 75 percent of dogs will pass away."

Dr. Olsen says xylitol acts quickly on dogs and cats -- leading to a severe drop in blood sugar, sluggishness, vomiting, and eventually, liver failure, which can happen in just a matter of days.

But, here's the thing -- the health impact really depends on the size of your pet.

"So, a chihuahua eating two cupcakes would probably be in pretty big trouble, whereas a Labrador eating that may not have that much trouble with it," says Dr. Olsen.

Still, she recommends keeping gum or mints in a closed drawer or cabinet, where pets can't reach them. And also check the ingredients on anything you buy that contains an artificial sweetener. That way -- you'll know what is in your home.

We also wanted to know why Xylitol can be dangerous for pets, but fine for humans to eat.

Dr. Olsen says there's not a clear answer for that. But it could be because animals have a much different metabolism than humans.

Doctors also say the first warning sign to look for is if your dog starts vomiting. If that happens, check the ingredients on the food they just ate to see if it has Xylitol in it. If it does, get a veterinarian right away.

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