Xylitol has become widely used as a substitute sweetener for cane sugar in foods, desserts, toothpaste, and gum. While it is harmless to humans and has several excellent benefits compared to raw sugar, it can be deadly to dogs.
Benefits for humans: Many people categorize Xylitol as an artificial sweetnener. However, it is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol that is found in low concentrations in many fruits and vegetables including berries, oats and corn. It differs from cane sugar by having an extra carbon atom in its molecule making it less digestible. Therefore while it tastes very sweet, approximately 33% less will be absorbed by the human body, which gives it a much lower position on the glycemic index than regular sugar. By being less absorbable, it will not raise the human blood sugar level immediately after eating foods containing levels of xylitol, therefore putting less strain on the pancreas which produces insulin that is released into the bloodstream to regulate the level of blood sugar. Xylitol is especially beneficial to diabetics who desire a sweetened taste in some foods but have a diminished capacity for producing insulin and regulating their blood sugar levels. Xylitol is also useful for not promoting dental cavities, for having one-third fewer calories than regular sugar, and for discouraging the growth of bacteria in the eustachian tubes. Xylitol has no known toxicity in humans. Its only negatives are — that it can have a mild laxative effect, and may causing minor bloating and gas if consumed in large amounts (65 grams/day of xylitol can cause diarrhea in some children).
Danger for Dogs: Xylitol is considered toxic and even life-threatening for dogs. Foods that contain >100mg of xylitol/kg of body weight of a dog can cause hypoglycemia, the reduction in blood sugar levels that can lead to a seizure within an hour of consumption and can be life-threatening. Foods that contain >500mg of xylitol/kg of body weight of a dog can result in immediate liver damage and death. The mechanism for causing this danger to dogs is somewhat different than what occurs in humans. In dogs, the xylitol causes a very rapid release of insulin which results in a very quick drop in blood sugar levels as the sugars are quickly absorbed into the dog’s tissues (liver, muscles, fat cells) and out of the bloodstream. The reduced blood sugar level will initially cause the dog to appear lethargic, but can quickly change into loss of coordination, collapse and seizure in less than one hour. This can quickly lead to liver damage, liver failure, and to death. With immediate emergency room treatment for the dog, liver damage and death can be avoided.
Dogs are exposed to xylitol because of the availability of candies, foods, and even toothpaste that are lying around the house within their range of access or from the accidental feeding of a xylitol-containing food by someone who is unaware of the dangers to the dog.
Seagate products containing xylitol and a recent incident: As of the date of publication of this blog entry, there are 3 Seagate homeopathic products that contain Xylitol — Olive Leaf Nasal Spray plus the two Olive Leaf Throat Sprays. On Saturday Oct. 19, Seagate was contacted by a customer – Karin – who had used the Olive Leaf Nasal Spray on her dog. The dog had been having sinus, skin and respiratory problems (a 15 year-old greyhound) which none of the other remedies nor any veterinarians were able to resolve. Karin decided to use the Olive Leaf Nasal Spray on her dog Friday night and then again on Saturday morning, before noticing that the nasal spray contains xylitol listed as an “Other Ingredient”on the label. Karin then immediately contacted her Veterinarian, another Veterinarian ER practice, and the ASPCA Poison Control Center. All of them advised her to bring the dog to the veterinary hospital for testing and observation.
The dog had not been showing any symptoms. The blood tests at the clinic showed a slightly reduced blood-sugar level, but not far outside the normal range. A second blood test was normal. While this event was occurring, Karin contacted Seagate to request the concentration of the xylitol in the nasal spray. On Saturday morning, the call was taken by our answering service, which did not relay it to the staff since they did not deem that the problem was urgent. (The answering service has since been fired.) However, on that same Saturday, Karin was able to contact me by email and I was able to inform her about the concentrations. This was my reply-
“There is less than 1% xylitol in the Seagate Olive Leaf nasal spray. There is a total of 1 oz liquid in the bottle which contains slightly less than 1% xylitol. So rounding upward, that gives you 1/100th of an ounce of xylitol in the bottle. One bottle provides ~300 sprays. So each spray you applied to your nose or the dog’s would have 1/30,000th of an ounce of xylitol. (That is one- thirty thousandth of an ounce.) Most likely you applied several sprays to each nostril so you probably ended up with an approx. dose of 1/7500th of an oz. Xylitol, which is a minute amount.”
So there was not enough xylitol in the nasal spray to cause any concern. However, at the time, Karin did not know this and despite the dog not showing any symptoms of xylitol poisoning, she did take an appropriate and responsible course of action to place her dog under immediate care, testing and observation. The dog of course never had any problems, reaction or symptoms. One thirty-thousandth of an ounce of xylitol in a spray is insignificant.
I also explained the reason why Seagate uses xylitol at ~1% in the nasals and throat sprays–
“We are not really putting in enough Xylitol to sweeten the nasal spray. What we are doing is neutralizing the very very sour taste of the olive leaf and grapefruit seed extracts. Without the Xylitol, the nasal spray would be extremely irritating to the sinus membranes. The reason so little is included is because we don’t need very much to accomplish this job of altering the flavor of the nasal spray.”