A veterinarian from Portland, OR is seeking action from the US Food and Drug Administration in order to obtain warning labels on foods containing xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used as an artificial sweetener derived from plants including birch trees, raspberries, plums and corn. It has been known for quite some time that xylitol can cause toxicity in dogs however; the recent increase in the use of xylitol as an artificial sweetener in human foods has opted a raise in awareness of the dangers of feeding pets foods commonly containing the sweetener. Only a small amount of the toxin is needed to cause symptoms of toxicity in dogs. As little as 0.1 gram of xylitol per kilogram of body weight can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar within 30 minutes of ingestion. Only a 0.5 g/kg dose is toxic enough to cause acute hepatic necrosis which is a deadly form of liver failure. Other severe symptoms include vomiting, weakness, ataxia (uncoordinated movements), depression, hypokalemia (decreased potassium), seizures, coma and ultimately liver failure.
The most common food item that xylitol can be found in is sugar free-gum, when can be tempting to dogs if not kept out of reach. Xylitol can also be found in sugar-free candies, baked goods, some pharmaceuticals and dental products such as toothpaste and mouthwash. Xylitol can also be found in peanut butter, a common treat fed to dogs. Owners should read labels carefully before feeding their pets any foods meant for human consumption. Be sure to keep these foods out of reach of your pets and only use pet toothpaste to brush your dog’s teeth.
According to Dr. Jason Nicholas, an online petition this week was sent to some nut butter manufacturers with one manufacturer agreeing to add a new “not for pets” warning to their nut and nut butter product labels which contain xylitol. Dr. Nicholas expects that new labels will start showing up on store shelves and on product websites in the near future.
A separate petition sent by Dr. Nicholas to the FDA is requesting that the government agency mandate product labelling actions if the manufacturers are not going to do so voluntarily. In the petition, Dr. Nicholas recalled the 2011 FDA consumer warning about xylitol and commended the agency for this action. However; because xylitol is more commonly used in food products in recent years there has been a 210% increase in cases of xylitol toxicity. According to Dr. Nicholas there are an average of over ten dogs suffering from xylitol toxicity each day.
I am a postdoctoral researcher with interests in pre-harvest microbial food safety, nonthermal food processing technologies, zoonotic pathogens, and plant-microbe interactions. My current research projects involve the optimization of novel food processing technologies to reduce the number of foodborne pathogens on fresh produce. I am a food geek!