Xylitol: What It Is and Why It’s Dangerous for Dogs

6 min read

Updated - Oct 20th, 2022

Key Points 

  • Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol that causes hypoglycemia and liver problems in dogs. 
  • Symptoms of xylitol poisoning range from sluggishness and decreased activity to seizures and comas. 
  • Immediate treatment is essential if your dog has eaten a product containing xylitol. 

Not entirely sure what xylitol is? You’re not alone. Few people are familiar with the substance – and even fewer people know that it’s extremely toxic for dogs – despite it being found in countless food, beauty, and toiletry products. 

While xylitol ingestion can be extremely dangerous and sometimes fatal, most dogs recover from xylitol poisoning with quick veterinary attention. Stay vigilant and keep your pup safe by learning how to recognize common symptoms and xylitol-containing products. 

If you suspect your dog may have eaten xylitol, immediately contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline


What happens if your dog eats xylitol?  The first symptom of xylitol poisoning in dogs is usually vomiting or diarrhea. Because xylitol causes your dog’s blood pressure to drop, they’ll also show signs of hypoglycemia, including:

  • Sluggishness and decreased activity 
  • Weakness 
  • Difficulty standing 
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Coma 

The effects of hypoglycemia typically set in after 10-60 minutes, but in rare cases, they can take several hours to develop. It’s important to take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Don’t wait for symptoms to develop because your dog’s condition can worsen if more time passes without treatment.  


Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol found in plants. It’s often used as a sugar replacement for people trying to lose weight because it has a lower calorie count than cane sugar. It also has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, which means it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels, making it the perfect sweetener for anyone trying to manage their diabetes. 

But while xylitol isn’t harmful to humans or most animals, it wreaks havoc in dogs. The canine pancreas mistakes xylitol for real sugar, and releases insulin as a response. But the insulin removes existing blood sugar instead of xylitol, causing your dog to experience hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.

Unfortunately, xylitol is not always included in ingredient lists, making it tricky to identify. Beware of anything listed as “sugar alcohol,” “birch sugar,” or “wood sugar,” as these are alternative names for xylitol. Also watch out for low-sugar or sugar-free foods and beverages. Here are products that may contain xylitol, depending on the brand and variety: 

  • Sugarless gum and breath mints 
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash 
  • Chewable vitamins 
  • Supplements 
  • Over-the-counter medications, including cough syrup
  • Lip balm 
  • Baby wipes 
  • Nut butters, including peanut butter 
  • Condiments like barbecue sauce, ketchup, and maple syrup 
  • Sugar-free baked goods, candies, and ice cream 

Take some time to familiarize yourself with foods that are safe for dogs, and foods that should be avoided at all costs. 


In low doses, xylitol in dogs can cause hypoglycemia. In high doses, it can elevate your dog’s liver enzymes and cause liver problems. These liver problems are usually mild, but they can cause liver failure in severe cases.  


If you think your dog has eaten any amount of xylitol, it’s extremely important to seek veterinary help right away. Their course of treatment will depend on a few factors, like the quantity of xylitol ingested and clinical signs and symptoms. 

If your dog isn’t showing any clinical signs or symptoms yet, your vet may induce vomiting to prevent your dog from absorbing more of the toxin. On the other hand, if your dog is already showing signs of hypoglycemia, they will likely need intravenous dextrose – or sugar injections – to restore their blood sugar to a healthy level. 

Most likely, your pet will need to be monitored for 12-24 hours. In addition to intravenous dextrose, your pet may also need other intravenous fluids and liver medications to treat any liver damage.

Recovery and care 

The good news is that most dogs fully recover from xylitol poisoning, but veterinary care is a critical part of the process. Recovery is generally best for pups who receive treatment before symptoms and clinical signs appear, and is most prolonged and challenging when signs of liver failure are present.  


Prevention comes down to one thing: keeping your pups away from any products containing xylitol. Start by checking the labels on your products and understanding which ones could contain this harmful substance for dogs. Pay special attention to sugar-free and low-sugar products, and double check the ingredients in your peanut butter if you use it to feed your pup medications.     

Remember: dogs can get into mischief, from raiding your purse for sugar-free chewing gum to jumping onto the counter for a sugar-free cookie. It’s important to puppy-proof your home by keeping all products with xylitol far from your dog’s reach – whether or not you consider them food. Finally, never use human toothpaste on your dog’s teeth, and opt for dog-friendly toothpaste instead.

What to expect at the vet’s office

When bringing your pup to the vet for xylitol poisoning treatment, prepare for a lengthy stay. If your vet only operates during business hours, anticipate being redirected to a 24-hour animal hospital. Your vet may also want to see the packaging of the product your dog ate to determine how much xylitol they ingested, so keep that handy during your visit. 

The bottom line

While your dog can recover from xylitol poisoning, it’s still a serious and potentially life-threatening issue. Call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 if you think your pup may have eaten xylitol.  


Does pet insurance cover xylitol poisoning in dogs? 

Pet insurance can help you pay for unexpected accidents and illnesses by reimbursing you for eligible vet bills. Depending on what pet insurance plan you have, you may get help covering eligible expenses associated with xylitol poisoning diagnosis and treatment, helping you focus more on care and less on cost. 

What happens if a dog eats xylitol?

Xylitol causes hypoglycemia in dogs, and potentially liver problems. Symptoms range from vomiting and weakness to seizure and collapse, making it incredibly important to seek help right away if your dog eats a xylitol product. 

How much xylitol is toxic to a dog? 

While large amounts of xylitol tend to cause more severe problems, any quantity can be dangerous depending on the dog. For small dogs especially, as little as one piece of gum can be harmful. The benchmark for determining xylitol toxicity is .05 grams per 1 pound of body weight, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.    

What is the difference between xylitol and sorbitol? 

Like xylitol, sorbitol is a type of artificial sweetener that’s widely used as a replacement for cane sugar. However, unlike xylitol, sorbitol is not toxic to your pup, although it can lead to diarrhea and stomach upset in large quantities. 

What are the possible effects of xylitol on humans?

While xylitol is extremely toxic for canines, humans can safely use and consume xylitol products. It’s not only safe but can also be beneficial, effective at warding off cavities and oral bacteria, in addition to being a low-calorie and diabetic-friendly sugar replacement. The human body doesn’t react in the same way pups do to the substance – but it’s still important for pet owners to keep it on their radar. 

Did you know? 

  • As little as one piece of gum containing xylitol can be harmful to pups.
  • Cases of xylitol poisoning in dogs are on the rise as the substance is being used as a sugar substitute in more and more products.
  • A wide range of goods, from toiletries to sugar-free ice cream, can contain xylitol.
  • There’s no antidote to xylitol poisoning in dogs, but liver medications and sugar injections can treat common symptoms.
  • Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans cover 90% of eligible vet visits – helping you provide your pet the best possible care if accidents and illnesses arise. Fetch a free quote today!

Anne Paglia

Anne is a copywriter. She loves all animals, but none rival her two Shih Tzus, Kiko and Pebbles, in beauty and grace.
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