Dogs and chocolate don’t mix. In fact, it can be a fatal combination. Although most dog owners are probably aware that chocolate is harmful to their furry friends, what many don’t know is that a sugar substitute is 100 times as toxic to dogs as milk chocolate and it is used in a growing number of food products.
Xylitol, a sugar substitute used in chewing gum, mints, sugar-free candies, gummy vitamins, toothpaste, specialty peanut butter and melatonin sleep aids, is behind an increase in accidental dog poisonings, some of them fatal, The Wall Street Journal reports.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase” in xylitol calls, said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline, in an interview with the Journal. So far this year, Brutlag’s center has received 2,800 calls about known or suspected xylitol ingestion, a marked increase from the 300 xylitol-related calls the center received in 2009.
The Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received more than 3,700 xylitol calls in 2014, 11 that involved canine fatalities, according to CBS. In 2004, the center received 82 such calls.
Brutlag said the sugar substitute is one of the most dangerous food-related poisons her center deals with.
“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,” Brutlag said.
Although xylitol is safe for human consumption, ingesting it can cause a sudden release of insulin in dogs, resulting in low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, brain damage and even death, CBS said.
While some animal welfare groups and pet owners are calling for warning labels on products that contain xylitol – like this online petition from a pet-safety group in Oregon – other people argue that educating dog owners about xylitol’s threat to their canine companions is a more efficient and effective way to address the issue.
Many food manufacturers argue that their products are meant for human, not canine, consumption and that they’re properly labeled with xylitol as an ingredient.
I’m sure any dog owner will tell you that their pooch doesn’t care whom the yummy-smelling food is meant for, nor what the product label says: If they can get to the food, they’re going to eat it. For this reason, I’m in favor of education over relabeling products.
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