When Karen Lykins of Middlebury woke up on a Saturday morning
early this June, it was to find Lily, her three-month-old Sheltie
puppy, surrounded by bodily fluids on the floor. She brought the
dog to the veterinarian right away, but just a few hours later,
Lily had died of liver failure.
While Middlebury Animal Hospital staff did not do blood testing and
were not certain of the cause of death, they did find traces of gum
on Lily's paws. Lykins said Lily exhibited symptoms resembling
those of poisoning by the artificial sweetener xylitol: rapid onset
of hypoglycemia, then liver failure. Lykins said members of her
family chew sugar-free gum, and likely left it out where Lily could
According to a 2006 article by Dr. Eric Dunayer, a veterinary
toxicologist, in "Veterinary Medicine," the artificial sweetener,
which can induce the release of excessive insulin and lower blood
sugar in dogs, also targets the liver in higher doses. Xylitol,
which naturally occurs in low doses in tree bark and a number of
fruits and vegetables, only seems to have its unusual affects on
dogs - humans and rats metabolize the ingredient normally.
Xylitol is used as a low-calorie sweetener in products like gum and
as an alternative to sugar. The ingredient has also been shown to
reduce bacteria levels, and it can be found in cavity-prevention
products like toothpaste.
Dunayer reports that his organization, the national Animal Poison
Control Center - run by the American Society for Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) - received an increasing number of
reports of xylitol exposure in the years leading up to 2006.
Dr. Susan Hayden of Otterside Animal Hospital in Brandon said she's
never seen a confirmed case of xylitol poisoning, but that it's a
hazard she's aware of for dogs. In cases where a dog may have
ingested any product containing xylitol, she said time is of the
"A dog's blood sugar can begin dropping dangerously low within just
a couple of hours, if it's a toxic dose," she said.
Dunayer's article reports that a toxic dose can vary widely
depending on the size of the dog and the product: while most
products record "total sugars" on their labels, few specify the
amount of xylitol contained in a product.
Hayden recommended immediate hospitalization in any suspected cases
of xylitol poisoning, but she said the best strategy is to keep any
products with artificial sweetening away from dogs.
"Dogs and puppies get into things that they shouldn't," she
Robert Macpherson from the Rutland Veterinary Clinic says, "for a
20 pound dog, one piece of gum can do it." He adds that no deaths
from xylitol poisoning have yet been confirmed in the Rutland
clinic, but they successfully treated two cases last year and he is
aware of the increase nationwide. Macpherson warns owners about the
danger and tells them how to recognize symptoms, "The first signs
are weakness, vomiting, then seizures all caused by the severe drop
in blood sugar... most of the time we just support the dog through
the process, sometimes administering intervenes fluids with sugar,"
Karen Lykins, for her part, is determined to spread the word about
the hazard that xylitol poses for dogs.
"We only had (Lily) for a month, and she was healthy and smart and
beautiful," Lykins said. "We want to make sure that Lily's death
means something. If we can save another family's dog, that means