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Xylitol toxicity in dogs (Oh, Starbucks, Flintstones! Where did you go wrong?)

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:57am

Some of you may know that I used to recommend Flintstones chewable vitamins for pets. You may also know that I enjoy my daily Starbucks. And Virbac is a pet product manufacturer I’ve profiled on Dolittler for its excellent concepts…

…and yet I’ve recently learned that all of them have let us down when it comes to heeding warnings on the use of Xylitol (a sugar substitute) in their products.

In case you missed my first couple of rants on the subject of Xylitol, here’s another one:

Nothing much has changed. Xylitol is still alarmingly toxic to dogs. Even tiny quantities can cause a severe drop in blood sugar, triggering seizures and trailing a failing liver in its wake. What IS new is that the number of products employing Xylitol is steadily growing, despite the veterinary outcry against its indiscriminate use without appropriate warning labels.

Xylitol is a sugar substitute with excellent sweetening qualities. As a less expensive alternative to the aspartames and saccharines of this world, this ingredient is making headway in the realm of mints, toothpaste, gum, kids’ vitamins and even cupcakes.

It’s a godsend, say some diabetics and nutritionists. Xylitol is, after all, a naturally occurring molecule with none of the calories or blood glucose elevating effects of traditional table sugar. Above all, say consumer product manufacturers, it’s less expensive.

The problem is that most dog owners haven’t yet heard of Xylitol. Even if they have, they don’t always know to look at their labels. And then there’s the issue of all the products now adding Xylitol to their ingredient list—Flintstones vitamins, for example.

I used to recommend Flintstones vitamins for dogs…until yesterday. That’s when I received an updated list of products containing Xylitol. Flintstones vitamins are a new addition.

When I first heard of Xylitol a couple of years back, I’d checked the labels of Flintstones vitamins to be sure I wasn’t recommending a toxic product. But the product’s manufacturer since decided Xylitol was a great ingredient for its “Flintstone’s Complete” vitamins.

So much for my past posts in support of the product. Though I don’t specifically recommend this version of Flintstones, it’s an easy enough mistake for any pet owner to make. That’s why I spent the afternoon drafting an advisory for the waiting room. Then I removed Flintstones from my online “recommended” lists.

Guess what other products made the list? Starbucks mints and gums. Another email fired off to big-time corporate managers who will most likely never take my concerns seriously.

Oh, and one more: Virbac, a company I respect for its excellent cache of product offerings. Their C.E.T. water additive (for reducing oral bacterial populations to help treat periodontal disease) contains Xylitol. Sure, it’s only present in minute quantities. But its very presence there is unwelcome—especially without the toxicity warning Virbac’s veterinarian customers are clamoring for.

Toxins in pet foods are bad. They kill pets. I’m gratified to see all the attention paid to this problem. But where’s the public outcry over Xylitol? How many dogs have already died? The numbers are inestimable simply because death from low blood sugar doesn’t exactly manifest in ways consistent with toxins most veterinarians are aware of.

So you know, I still find vets who don’t know about Xylitol. Though I almost always ask the owners of newly seizuring pets and those with acute liver failure whether they might have been exposed to Xylitol, I know for a fact that one of my local emergency hospitals doesn’t always ask.

When one of my clients’ dogs arrived almost dead after presumably encountering a toad, his owner elected to euthanize rather than treat, assuming a hopeless scenario. Though that may well have been the case, the query’s omission speaks to the insidious nature of Xylitol toxicity.

If humans don’t know that a few mints can kill their dogs why should they be careful when handling them. Would they buy them if they knew?

I find it hard to believe that consumer product manufacturers don’t know of their products’ dangers to dogs. It’s not hard—or expensive—to add warning labels to their products. What keeps them from doing so is simply the fear of losing their market share and the ability to use this profitable ingredient should knowledge of its effects become widely known. 

Long post. Long rant. But I vow to keep ranting as long as I still encounter pet owners and veterinarians unaware of this toxic ingredient…and consumer product manufacturers willing to risk our dogs’ lives by sweetening their products with it.
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