Sunday, October 5, 2014

Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs

I'll preface this post by saying my dog is a tank. She has a stomach of steel and eats things that while technically edible should never be eaten by dogs: snacks from the litter box (ok, this one isn't really edible), an entire stick of butter, turtle brownies, garlic bread--the list could go on. Barley's sneaky. She's silent--like a ninja--despite wearing more bling than most rappers. And she's fast. I've known these things since the day I brought her home, so I crate her when I'm not home, but somehow she still manages to get ahold of things. Luckily for us, most of the things she's eaten haven't had much affect on her (except for some disgusting digestive issues with the butter incident--I'm still thankful that my mom was willing to shift into "mom mode" for her adult daughter when I appeared, tearful, beside her bed in the middle of the night to ask where carpet cleaner was kept).

Trying to sneak a freeze-dried beef cat treat off her brother's tower.

She's so stealthy the deer aren't even bothered by her.

Unfortunately, we had one incident that turned out to be pretty scary and that was the Sugar-Free Gum Incident of 2011.

I adopted Barley on January 3, 2011. At the shelter's (and our vet's) best estimate, she was a year old. I knew border collies were energetic and could find their own entertainment if not kept busy, so a crate was one of my very first purchases on January 4. Barley went in her crate while I was out of the house, when I showered, and when I slept. For the most part, it was easy to keep track of her because she was especially velcro-y in our early days together. If I got up, she got up and followed me, so I didn't crate her for short periods of unsupervised time like going to the bathroom or drying my hair--she was usually right outside the bathroom door at those times anyway.

The Incident
On February 21, 2011, I let Barley out of crate after I got out of the shower and as usual she followed me around while I got ready for work. She was curled up in the bedroom, so I ducked into the bathroom to dry my hair--which had been drying naturally for a while, so I was occupied for 5 minutes.

When I went back into the bedroom, Barley wasn't there. I checked the spare room. She was there, chewing on something. I looked closer. It was a pack of Orbit gum that had been in my purse. I'd only had one or two pieces and there were only a few pieces left in the packet.

My heart sank.

I had just seen a segment on Good Morning America about a puppy that had died after eating sugar-free gum. I knew we were in trouble, so I called my vet and she told me to bring Barley in immediately. I'd had my dog less than 2 months and I was sure this was the end.

Luckily, my vet's office is a mile away from our apartment, so I grabbed my school bag, my purse, and Barley and rushed out the door.

If less than 30 minutes have passed, the dog can be made to vomit the gum back up, so that was the first thing our vet did (which cost $47--I quickly learned about hydrogen peroxide since it was clear Barley might need to have vomiting induced more than once in her lifetime).

Sugar-free gum is dangerous because most of it contains the ingredient xylitol, which is good for humans as it prevents all kinds of dental problems, but it can be lethal for dogs. Xylitol tricks the dog's pancreas into releasing insulin because it responds to xylitol as real sugar, but since xylitol isn't real sugar a dog can experience hypoglycemia and can experience symptoms similar to a diabetic with low blood sugar, including weakness, disorientation, tremors, and seizures.

Barley didn't experience any of these symptoms in the few minutes it took me to grab the gum, call the vet, and rush to the office, but the vet wanted to monitor her glucose levels throughout the day. I felt better knowing I could go to work knowing my girl was in good hands. Throughout the day, Barley's blood sugar was tested four times. It did dip pretty low, pretty quickly--I don't remember the exact numbers now--but the vet did give her something to raise her blood sugar once. By the end of the day, her levels had been stable, so I got to bring her home with instructions to feed her several small meals multiple times throughout the evening to keep her blood sugar up. Barley loves when she gets second dinner, so getting third and fourth dinner was probably a dream come true for her.

I also had to bring Barley back in two days later for bloodwork. Xylitol can also cause hepatic necrosis, which is destruction of liver tissues. Usually, this is the result of high doses of xylitol, but we weren't sure how much Barley had actually ingested. The vet ran a 6-part test to check major organ function to make sure there wasn't any liver failure. Thankfully, the results came back and gave Barley a clean bill of health.

Where We're at Now
This was a scary event for us.  If I hadn't seen the segment on GMA, I would never have known gum was a major danger for my dog. If I hadn't caught Barley with the gum when I did, she might have eaten the whole pack--and according to the info from our vet, hypoglycemia can occur when a dog ingests .1 grams per kilogram of body weight, or in other words "a 10 lb. dog could be poisoned by as little as a stick and a half of gum," so at 50 pounds, the almost full pack Barley got ahold of could have caused serious problems. She also didn't show any symptoms during the 15 minutes or so it took me to call the vet, get in the car, and rush to the office--so if I hadn't seen her with the gum, I might have left for work and she would have been home alone when her blood sugar dipped so low.

Such a happy, smiley girl.

Barley has continued to be a healthy, happy pup although she still manages to get into things she shouldn't. Exactly one year and one day later she got into a bottle of Aleve. Now, I see February as Barley's "Dark Days" and every February I crate her even if I'm just going to be in the bathroom for a minute. (In reality, I'm sure she gets into things more in February because it's too cold to get the level of exercise she needs, so she has excess energy which leads to trouble.)

Faster than a speeding bullet.

I no longer buy gum. Even though I'm a dental health freak (we're talking 30 years of life with no cavities, no braces, and no dentist visits requiring more than a cleaning and standard x-rays), I've learned to deal with the fact that my teeth are going to feel a little scummy when I go out to eat  until I can go home and brush them. I feel equal parts joy and guilt when a friend offers a piece of gum after dinner out and I can never reciprocate the offer on future outings. Luckily, my friends all know and love Barley and have seen her dive face first into their purses when they have gum inside (they also now know to zip their purses or put them way up high when they come over) and they don't hold my inability to provide gum for the group against me.

This is the one health issue my pets have had that I have absolutely no doubts about the way I handled the situation. I wouldn't change a thing. The most important thing in this case was fast action. If your dog ingests xylitol, time is key. It was expensive--$359 between the initial treatment and the blood work--but it was necessary. My vet was very honest about the severity of the situation and I knew my girl was in good hands.

*Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and have no medical training. The ideas shared in this blog are my own experiences with my dog's xylitol poisoning that I share in hopes of spreading awareness of the dangers of xylitol. If you think your dog has ingested xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately to discuss treatment.*

Read all of the posts in the round robin here.
We're participating in the Caring for Critters round robin hosted by Heart Like a Dog. Tune in to Sand Spring Chesapeakes tomorrow for their experiences with bone cancer.

Please share with anyone who has mischievous pups who scavenge. 


  1. Thanks for adding this post to the Round Robin. I knew gum was bad but I didn't know what the effects of ingestion were!

    I'm so glad you were on top of this situation so you could react promptly. You saved Barley's life!

    Delilah is my forager. She has eaten more things than I can count. :-( 3/4 POUND of butter, wrappers and all. Vomited up a tiny bit of foam. The dog has an iron gut. I did have to induce vomiting when she ate a bunch of my supplements though...;-(

    1. Oh my! 3/4 of a pound of butter sounds awful. Barley just got one stick (plus the wrapper) in our butter incident--but it was the grossest dog-owning experience that I have ever had! I'm glad Delilah had little incident with her butter eating!

  2. Bar is a trooper! She's lucky to have a GMA watching mama to keep her on track!