Birch sugar (xylitol) is highly toxic for dogs

The sugar substitute xylitol, also known as birch sugar, is becoming increasingly popular and is found more and more often in households to sweeten food and drinks. Many commercially available foods and medicines also contain xylitol. But very few people know that xylitol is highly toxic for dogs. Unfortunately, more and more dogs are getting poisoned with xylitol. This could be prevented. Find out here how xylitol affects dogs, what you can do if your dog has eaten xylitol and what you can do to prevent poisoning. 

Poisonings with birch sugar are on the increase

Description and Definition

The sweetener xylitol is often found in the household

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that can be found in many sugar-free foods. In particular, sweet diet products or products for diabetics often contain xylitol. The white powder is also increasingly used in households to sweeten food and drinks. This is because xylitol has the same sweet taste as sugar, but only about two-thirds of its calories.

  • Sugar-free chewing gums
  • Sugar-free cakes, chocolate, sweets, jams
  • Puddings
  • Vitamin candies
  • Peppermint candies
  • Cough syrup
  • Medicines (nasal spray, skin care, digestive aids, sleeping aids, etc.)
  • Sugar-free homeopathic medicines
  • Toothpaste, mouthwash

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol obtained by chemical methods from wood, often from the fibres of birch bark, but also from maize fibres and other woods. Xylitol is often found in chewing gums for dental care, as it is used to prevent plaque and tooth decay. If consumed in excess, it can cause diarrhoea. Xylitol is also harmless for humans, but highly dangerous for our dogs. The sugar substitute is highly toxic for dogs. For dogs, a few grams are enough for fatal poisoning.

Other names for xylitol are birch sugar, xylitol, E967, D-xylitol or xylitolu PhEur.


First symptoms of poisoning with xylitol appear very quickly

When dogs ingest xylitol, there is first a sharp increase in insulin and subsequently a life-threatening drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia). Hypoglycaemic shock is an absolute emergency that is also known to occur in people with diabetes. Severe liver damage and complete liver failure can result from severe intoxication.

First symptoms already 10-60 minutes after ingestion:

  • Apathy
  • Vomiting
  • Faintness
  • Increased heart rate

Severe hypoglycaemia can occur as early as 30 minutes after ingestion:

  • Panting
  • Weakness, lateral position
  • Coordination disorders, unsteady gait
  • Behavioural disorders
  • Palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Convulsions, seizures similar to epilepsy

Liver failure may occur afterwards (for up to 3 more days):

  • Yellowing of the mucous membranes
  • Coma
  • Liver failure
  • Death

Even the smallest amounts of xylitol can be fatal for dogs

The dog's body reacts extremely quickly to xylitol with strong and life-threatening symptoms of poisoning.

Even 0.1 grams of xylitol per kilogram of body weight can trigger symptoms of poisoning in our dogs. From about 0.3 grams of xylitol per kilogram of body weight, the dose can become fatal for dogs due to liver failure. An exact lethal dose has not been scientifically determined and it basically also depends on the individual constitution of the dog.

So already 1.5 chewing gums or a few globules can be enough for a dog of 5 kilograms to show symptoms of poisoning.


What should I do if my dog has eaten birch sugar? (First aid!)

The most important thing first: quick action can save your dog's life!

1. Absolute emergency: immediately go to the vet or animal clinic!

If your dog has eaten xylitol, you should go to the vet immediately and preferably call them beforehand. On the one hand, this ensures that the vet is on the spot and on the other hand, they can prepare themselves and give you advice over the phone if necessary.

2. On the way to the vet: artificially maintain blood sugar levels

To prevent hypoglycaemia on the way to the vet, it can be useful to give the dog sugar to maintain the blood sugar level until the vet arrives and to prevent your dog from going into a coma. However, it is best to discuss this with the vet on the phone beforehand.

You can give your dog sugar in the following form, for example:

  • Smear honey or sugar solution on the inside of the mouth mucous membranes
  • Give dextrose

3. Detoxification only possible shortly after ingestion

If you go to the vet very soon after your dog ingests xylitol, they can still try to detoxify the dog. However, this is only possible if the xylitol has not yet entered the blood. Unfortunately, this happens extremely quickly with xylitol, as it can also be absorbed through the mucous membranes and can therefore enter the blood 10-60 minutes after ingestion. Detoxification can be done, for example, by inducing vomiting with the help of medication. If the dog shows the first signs of poisoning, it may already be too late to remove the poison.

4. Treatment by the vet

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for xylitol. If the symptoms of poisoning are very severe, the vet can support the dog symptomatically with glucose-containing infusions and antispasmodic medication. The focus is usually on accelerating drainage and stabilising the glucose level in the blood.


Prognosis for birch sugar (xylitol) poisoning in dogs

The prognosis for xylitol poisoning depends on the dog's health and the amount of xylitol it has ingested. However, the decisive factor for a good prognosis and recovery of the dog is always how quickly it can be treated. If the dog is treated before the first symptoms appear, it has a good chance of survival. However, if severe signs of poisoning with coma or liver failure are already evident, the prognosis is often very poor.


Always keep birch sugar and products containing xylitol away from dogs

Beware of (sweet) foods with xylitol

Everything that tastes sweet is very attractive to dogs. Xylitol is often used in biscuits, cakes or pies, or in chocolates and other sweets. You should keep these away from your dog.

Careful with globules

Regular administration of xylitol, for example by taking sugar-free globules, can gradually poison your dog and lead to increased liver values. Therefore, never give your dog sugar-free globules for humans, but globules for dogs!

Watch out for toothpaste

Never brush your dog's teeth with toothpaste containing xylitol! Always use toothpaste that is expressly suitable for dogs.

Educate all family members and roommates

Also remember that other family members or flatmates may leave food containing xylitol lying around. Whether in the car, the study or the living room. Educate everyone about which foods are toxic to the dog.

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