Q: My uncle’s dog ate chewing gun over the weekend. His dog, Buddy, was just fine, and he didn’t give it a second thought. But I have heard chewing gum can make dogs really sick. What gives? R.W., Farragut
A: Not all chewing gums create problems for dogs, but I assume that you have heard about sugar-free gum containing xylitol as a sweetener. And you are correct, gum containing xylitol can absolutely be dangerous for dogs.
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that is a common sugar substitute and is found in sugar-free gums, jellies, candies and many diabetic-friendly products. In people, xylitol is slowly absorbed and does not have much affect on blood sugar levels. But with dogs, xylitol is absorbed quite quickly. This causes a major insulin release, which in turn causes the blood-sugar levels to drop quickly. For dogs that have eaten a product containing xylitol, they may show signs of low blood sugar (‘hypoglycemia”) in as little as 30-to-40 minutes.
These patients become weak and tired, as their blood sugar continues to fall. Many of these dogs also vomit. In cases of large amounts of xylitol being ingested, collapse and seizures can occur. Some pets will also experience acute liver necrosis and liver failure; the exact mechanism for this is still poorly understood.
Knowledge of xylitol toxicity is key. If your dog accidentally eats chewing gum, check the ingredient list on the packaging. If it contains xylitol, bring the packaging and your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible. The treatment plan and prognosis is based on the weight of your dog, how much gum was ingested and the amount of xylitol in that particular brand of gum.
Blood sugar levels will be monitored and treatment started if necessary. Severe hypoglycemia is treated with IV fluids with dextrose (sugar), and this can lower the potential for more serious complications. Blood tests to monitor for liver damage are also performed. Early treatment certainly improves the prognosis for these pets.
Do you have questions about your pet? If so, you may e-mail Dr. Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org