Six-month-old Portuguese Water Dog puppy, Rio, gave his owners quite a fright the other night! Around dinner time, after going outside, Rio started to stagger, vomited one time, then fell unconscious. He was completely unresponsive – his owner says, “I thought he was dead”.
After contacting the emergency service, they got Rio into the car and headed to the hospital. Much to their relief, he started to ‘come around’ on the drive. By the time they arrived here, Rio was still slightly disoriented and ataxic (wobbly) but otherwise normal on physical exam. Fortunately, the owners thought to bring along the Rio’s vomit in some paper towel and a plastic bag. On closer examination of the vomit, we found several pieces of chewing gum – this was crucial evidence for us and we then had a pretty good idea as to what had happened. Rio had gotten into his owner’s gym bag and eaten half of a package of ‘Pur’ chewing gum – sweetened with Xylitol.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in many brands of sugar free gum, candy and even some brands of peanut butter. In people, it is safe and effective. In dogs, however, it tricks the pancreas into thinking that blood sugar levels are too high and triggers the release of large amounts of insulin – resulting in very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Clinical signs include vomiting, incoordination, collapse and seizures. It can also have harmful effects on the liver. It does not take a lot of Xylitol to cause problems for a dog. (It is not known if Xylitol has the same effect in cats, but they tend to be a little more discriminate about what they eat.)
Fortunately, Rio is back to his normal mischievous self. We are monitoring his liver.
There are two important ‘Take Home’ lessons we, along with Rio and his owners, would like to share:
1. KEEP ALL XYLITOL CONTAINING PRODUCTS OUT OF REACH OF DOGS. Products containing Xylitol will have it listed on the ingredient list, but it is probably a good idea to keep all ‘sugar free’ products out of reach of your dog as a precaution.
2. If you suspect your dog has “Gotten into something” bring anything they have vomited up with you to the vet – it can provide us with helpful clues as to what we are dealing with!