Xylitol, the sweetener commonly used in tea and coffee as a sugar substitute, and to flavour human foods, is potentially fatal for dogs.
The South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) warns that any dog swallowing xylitol should be taken to a vet immediately. The sooner he or she receives treatment, the better the chance of survival.
Xylitol is commonly used in sugar-free chewing gum, diabetic foodstuffs, and in low-carbohydrate diets.
Because its used in so many foodstuffs, the chances of it being eaten by dogs has increased dramatically in recent years. And as a result, the number of dogs dying from xylitol toxicity has also risen.
Not only dogs are affected; recently, accidental exposure in a flock of Cape Sugarbirds resulted in multiple acute deaths after ingesting xylitol solution from a nectar feeder.
SAVA says it is not yet known whether xylitol is toxic to domestic cats. Also, the chances of cats ingesting it are much lower than in dogs.
Other sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, are not regarded as toxic to dogs.
Signs of xylitol ingestion
Depression, lethargy, vomiting, lack of muscle coordination and seizures.
If diagnosed and treated early on, xylitol toxicity has a fair prognosis. However, if treatment isn’t found quickly, the dog could die.