Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Xylitol toxcity: Some sugar-free chewing gum and foods may be toxic to your dog

I learned something new last week at work that I would like to share. 
We had a dog come in as a toxicity case.  It had consumed xylitol. 
Xylitol?  I had never heard of it.  Which is crazy because it was first identified in 1891 and has started to make an increasing appearance in food and oral care products since the 1970s.  Apparently I just haven’t been paying that close attention to some of my sugar-free foods.
I did some quick research (thanks google!) and found out that I actually consume xylitol on a near daily basis.  Xylitol is a very common sweetener used in chewing gum (and other sugar-free foods such as mints, chewable vitamins, oral-care products, and some baked goods). 

What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener often used instead of sugar because it has significantly less calories.  It is a part of a group of sweeteners called “sugar alcohols” that also include things like sorbitol, mannitol, glycerol, etc. 

Where is it found in our lives?
Xylitol is increasingly being found in sugar-free snacks and many dental products due to the discovery that xylitol provides some dental health benefits.  Xylitol is in many sugar-free gums, including Orbit, Trident, Dentyne, and many “dental” gums.  Xylitol is also available to buy in a granulated form for baking purposes. 

What does it do to dogs?
Studies have shown that xylitol, while being safe and potentially has health benefits for humans, is toxic to dogs.  It causes a release of insulin; the increase can lead to hypoglycemia (lowered blood sugar levels).  Very high doses of xylitol intake can also potentially lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.

Why does it cause problems in dogs?
Xylitol is absorbed very quickly in dogs; their bodies are fooled into thinking a bunch of sugar just entered the body, so their body reacts by releasing insulin, which helps the body absorb sugar from the blood.  As a result, the blood sugar goes way down—and fast.  It is reported that blood sugars can plummet in only half an hour.

What should you do if you discover your dog ate some xylitol-containing food?
Take it to the vet right away!  Don’t wait for symptoms.  There might be time to induce vomiting and puke up the gum/food.  If the problem is caught early, the dog can be monitored and treated until the problem is gone. 

According to the ASPCA poison control website:

Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination.  Signs can progress to recumbancy and seizures.  Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.

How much is a toxic dose?
Research suggests that more than 0.1g/kg can lead to hypoglycemia and more than 0.5g/kg can be much worse and lead to liver failure.
That means, for example, that Leopold (who is 31 kg [69lbs]) would have to consume 3.1g of xylitol to be at risk of hypoglycemia, and would have to consume 15.5g of xylitol to be at risk for liver failure. 
In terms of chewing gum (the most likely source in the average home), one source recommends that if your dog ate gum with xylitol listed as the first sugar alcohol ingredient, then base the dose on the total amount of sugar alcohols; this will result in an over-estimation (but better safe than sorry, right?)
If your dog ate gum with xylitol not listed as the first sugar alcohol ingredient, then assume 0.3g of xylitol per piece of gum.  Also, I cup of powdered xylitol = about 190g.

I chew gum on a regular basis, so I'm glad I learned of this information.  I plan on making sure to keep all gum and other xylitol-containing goods well away from my dogs.


Dunayer, Erik K. (December 2006). "New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs". Veterinary Medicine 101 (12): 791–797. Retrieved August 20, 2012.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fun activity for dogs who like to "disembowel" their stuffed animal toys.

Does your dog like to do this:

Leopold has always liked to "disembowel" his stuffed toys.  I used to stop him before he could completely ruin them and then repair any damage done.  The toy you seen in the photo was repaired probably ten times before I gave up and let Leopold do what he really wanted to do: tear every piece of stuffing out!  What a mess.  But at least he had fun.
Since then I've come up with an activity for Leopold that works with the same general principle (tearing out stuffing!), but is re-usable and easy to clean up.

             * * * WARNING!* * *  
This is not an activity you want to give to a dog that is prone to swallowing pieces of fabric (or other things they shouldn't be eating for that matter!).  This is an activity I would never give to my other dog, Halo, as she thinks fabric is delicious and likes to eat it.

Though remember that it's always a good idea to supervise your dog when it's playing with toys (especially when its playing with pieces of fabric).

MATERIALS you need for this activity:

- Hol-ee Roller Dog Toy, 5"
- pre-cut pieces of fleece fabric
- treats (I often use Zukes Mini Naturals)
- a dog who loves to play!

I like to use the Hol-ee Roller because it's very durable and doesn't do a lot of damage if my dogs accidentally whip it at something.  For a game I like to give my dogs that uses a smaller version of the Hol-ee Roller ball, check out this post.
I use fleece fabric because its a thicker fabric and is also washable!  I've cut my pieces into various sized strips.

HERE's what you do:
Stuff the ball with the pieces of fleece!   Then stuff some treats in the ball.  You don't have to add treats, but it can help make the game more fun for the dog.
I like to actually roll up small treats in some of the pieces of fleece.  Then Leopold is not only more interested, but because the treats are rolled up in fleece, he has to work a little harder to get the treats--this is good mental stimulation as it requires Leopold to figure out how to manipulate the pieces of fabric to get at the tasty bits. 

Want to get started on making your own dog a stuffed Hol-ee roller ball?
You can purchase the ball at most pet stores, or just get it from amazon.com: JW Pet Company Hol-ee Roller Dog Toy, 5-Inches (Colors Vary)
And here's the treats I often use: Zuke's Mini Naturals Dog Treats

[Edit, Jan2014: I put a warning at the beginning of this post, but here it is again in different words. 
Please supervise your dog when playing this game.  If you choose to roll up treats like I do, please please please supervise your dog to make sure they don't eat the whole roll.  I supervise Leo every time.  If you're watching your dog and see them chewing on the whole roll, then you'll be able to stop and correct the behavior immediately and/or take away the game before they consume the rolls and end up at the E.R.]

Now the ball is all ready to be torn apart! :-D

Here's a video of Leopold playing with his ball:

Leopold gets to have fun over and over, and the carnage is easy to clean up:

Hope your dog has as much fun with this game as Leopold does!

Convenient Product Links:


Friday, August 3, 2012

Dog potty training tips: try a crate!

There are many ways to potty-train a dog. I know one common method is to paper-train the dog first. This involves teaching the dog to only go to the bathroom (in the house) on newspaper or puppy-pad diapers. This method makes it easier to clean up messes in the house and requires fewer trips outside—after the dog has learned to go to the bathroom on the paper. However, this method makes it much harder to eventually teach the dog to only go to the bathroom outside. By using this method, you’re initially telling your dog it’s ok to go to the bathroom in the house; under certain conditions, yes, but still. I never recommend that people potty-train their dog this way.

I believe it is less confusing for the dog if the rules don’t change part way through their development and training—no poo or pee in the house at all from the beginning! I believe the best way to accomplish this is to crate-train a dog. Crating works because dogs will not go to the bathroom where they sleep. Keeping a dog in its crate whenever you’re not around or can’t supervise it will help the dog learn to hold their bowels and bladder; this is an important thing for dogs to learn if you ever want to leave them in the house unsupervised in the future. Any occurrence when your dog goes to the bathroom in the house and is not corrected is an instance where the dog doesn’t know it did a bad thing. And you can’t correct a behavior you don’t see happening, so these accidents will only slow down the potty-training process.

The trick to using a crate to potty-train your dog is to always take them outside as soon as you let them out of their crate. If they have been holding it, then they’re more likely to go to the bathroom in the correct location (outside!), which means you can then praise them and let them know that they did a good thing. You can even give your dog a tasty treat as a reward for going to the bathroom outside! Rewards, whether praise or a tasty tidbit, will help reinforce to the dog that going to the bathroom outside is a good thing.

It’s important to remember that very young puppies cannot physically hold their bladder or bowels very long; a good rule of thumb is that a puppy can go one hour for every month of age (though I’m sure there is some variability depending on the dog!). Leopold was ten weeks old when I first got him, which meant I had to take him outside every three hours—otherwise he’d have an accident (in his crate if that’s where he was!). This meant I had to get up in the middle of the night to let him out of his crate so that he could go outside and go to the bathroom, but that’s all a part of owning a puppy.

Potty training can be a trying task, but I believe crate-training can help the process go faster and reduces frustration.

I used a crate to help potty train Leopold.  Here he is at ten weeks old.