Sheepdog’s scare shows dangers of sugar-free gum
By Jane Hawes
FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
GAVIN JACKSON DISPATCH
Just to be safe, Mrs. Whipple called her father, a veterinarian in Utah. While her husband searched the Internet for a list of the gum’s ingredients, she asked whether they needed to take Lewis to a vet. “At first he said Lewis would be fine,” Mrs. Whipple said, “but then Ian told me to tell him that the gum was sugar-free and had xylitol in it. That’s when he told us we had to get him to emergency (treatment) right away.”
Xylitol is a highly concentrated and purified form of xylose, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. Though used since the 1960s as a sugar substitute in Europe, its use in the United States has been on the rise only during the past decade. It’s found in gum, chewable vitamins, baked goods and other foods. And, as the Whipples learned, xylitol is toxic to dogs.
According to a study published in 2006 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, xylitol triggers an insulin response in dogs that can bring on hypoglycemia, liver failure and death. The study estimated that 10 pieces of sugarfree gum can kill a 65-pound dog. Lewis, at about 35 pounds, had eaten nine, Mrs. Whipple said. Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, medical director of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill., said only dogs so far have been known to have problems with xylitol.
Lewis, however, had eaten gum. For 24 hours, he was subjected to an array of treatments, first at the Capital Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center in Columbus, then at the Whipples’ veterinarian’s office in Hilliard. Though his blood-sugar levels dropped significantly, Lewis pulled through and is now back to his perky self. The bills for his treatment totaled nearly $700.
Now, the Whipples are hoping to educate other dog owners about the dangers of xylitol poisoning. They also have contacted the gum’s manufacturer to consider placing a warning label on the gum’s packaging. “We had no idea it was that bad,” Mr. Whipple said. “He’s back to normal now, and we feel blessed, but if we can help avoid this happening to someone else, we’d like to try.”
Taunya and Ian Whipple of Hilliard want other dog owners to
be aware of Xylitol, the ingredient in sugar-free gum that
poisoned their inquisitive dog Lewis.
The top 10 pet poisons of 2009:
- Human medications
- “People food,” including xylitol, grapes, raisins, avocados and chocolate
- Plants, including azalea, rhododendron and lilies
- Misused pet medications
- Rodent poisons
- Household cleaners
- Metals, including lead, zinc and mercury, often found in paint chips and linoleum
- Garden products, such as fertilizers
- Other chemicals, such as antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners and pool/spa chemicals
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PET HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO A POISON:
- If possible, collect a sample of what the animal has ingested.
- Also collect in a sealed plastic bag a sample of anything the animal has vomited or chewed.
- An animal may not show symptoms of poisoning right away, but you should contact either your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 (a $65 consultation fee may apply) for more information.
- If the animal is having seizures, losing consciousness or is having difficulty breathing, get it to emergency treatment immediately.