What is Xylitol and why you should avoid it

What is Xylitol?


Xylitol aka Birch Sugar is natural so that means it’s harmless, right? Well it’s harmless to humans which is why it is an ingredient in many human products include some peanut butters. It is not safe for dogs however, it is toxic for them.


While xylitol is particularly poisonous to dogs, it can also cause adverse effects in cats and ferrets, so it’s best to keep any products containing xylitol out of reach of all pets. If your pet is notorious for getting into spaces where you store these products – for example, if you keep sugarless gum in your backpack or purse – be sure to make them inaccessible.


Commonly used as a sugar substitute, xylitol is a sweetener found in products like:

  • Chewing gum
  • Candy
  • Ice cream
  • Dietary supplements (like chewable or gummy vitamins)
  • Liquid compounded medications (like liquid gabapentin)
  • Mouthwash
  • Sugar-free desserts
  • Breath mints
  • Peanut butter

Keep an eye out for any product labeled “sugar free” or “diabetic friendly.


Signs of xylitol toxicity include vomiting, weakness, collapse, seizures, or uncoordinated gait. When a product containing xylitol is consumed by a dog, it is rapidly absorbed, causing insulin to be released from the pancreas and blood glucose levels can drop very low. Low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, is life threatening and requires immediate treatment. Depending on the amount consumed, xylitol can also damage the liver, but these signs may be delayed for several days.

If xylitol toxicity is suspected or you know your pet ingested a product with xylitol in it, seek immediate veterinary care. If you’re unsure if a product your dog consumed contains xylitol or birch sugar, save the product packaging with the ingredient list to provide to the veterinary care team. Treatment involves monitoring and to ensure blood glucose levels and liver activity remain normal, and support as needed in case of low blood sugar and/or liver failure.


Even though most owners seem to be aware of the dangers of xylitol – and bring their pets in when they suspect they may have consumed it – “birch sugar” and “birch sap” are less familiar terms with which all pet owners should be familiarizing themselves. Prevent xylitol ingestion by checking ingredient lists, keeping xylitol-containing products out of reach, and educating the entire family on keeping these items away from the family pet.