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My Dog Ate Gum. What Should I Do?

Updated on April 26, 2017
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Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

Help, My Dog Ate Gum!

"My dogs ate five sticks of gum, what should I do?" said the owner on the other line just prior to closing. As a receptionist for an animal hospital, I was pretty used to these sort of phone calls. Indeed, I was trained to ask several important questions, such as " What type of gum did your dog ingest? What ingredients are in it? How long ago did your dog ingest the gum? How much gum did your dog eat? How much does your dog weigh? Is your dog showing any symptoms? The answers from the dog owner at this point were very important and could have made a great difference between an emergency and a somewhat quiet evening.

If the owner said the dog ate just regular sugared bubble gum (not the sugar-less type), then we could both exhale a sigh of relief. Sure, if the dog in question ate a whole lot of gum, we could expect some digestive upset just from eating something different, or if the dog was on the smaller side, there could be potential for the gum possibly forming an obstruction especially if even the foil was ingested, but this would have been the least of the concerns for now.

If the gum though happened to be of the sugar-less type with xylitol in it, this could have been a big, big problem. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. When the owner confirmed that it was indeed of the sugar-less type containing xylitol and the dog ingested more than a couple of hours ago, then I reported immediately to the vet who said to have the owner bring in the dog immediately. Soon, I was writing on our board the estimated time of arrival and we were getting ready to handle the emergency.

Fortunately, the quick supportive care provided allowed the dog to recover, but not always these stories have a happy ending. If your dog recently ingested gum with xylitol in it, STOP reading now any further and contact your vet. Time is of the essence. While a family member contacts the vet or puts the dog on leash, you can quickly scroll down to the bottom and take a quick peek where it says "My Dog Ate Gum: Quick Guide on What to Do."

The Dangers of Sugar-less Gum in Dogs

Not many owners are aware of the dangers of sugar-less gum. As mentioned, the culprit is a substance called xylitol, often used in sugarless candies, mints, breath fresheners, chewable vitamins, toothpastes, nicotine gums and several baked goods. While xylitol ingestion is pretty much innocuous in people, dogs can develop serious, even life threatening conditions.

What exactly is xylitol? Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in lieu of regular sugar. When it comes to its use in gum, it offers the advantage over natural sweeteners of reducing cavities and even being helpful for remineralization. Xylitol is also much cherished because it is absorbed slowly causing lower surges of insulin release in people compared to natural sweeteners. This makes xylitol a preferable sugar substitute for people concerned about the glycemic index of foods.

More and more cases of xylitol toxicity in dogs are taking place each year due to the fact that there are more and more products containing this artificial sweetener on the market. According to the ASPCA Poison Control Center, the numbers of dogs suffering from xylitol poisoning have greatly increased since the first reports occurring in 2002.

A Matter of Insulin

What's the problem with xylitol ingestion in dogs? Unlike in people, xylitol triggers in dogs a very rapid release of insulin (like within 30 minutes) which causes a dog's blood sugar to dangerously drop. When blood sugar drops too low, a condition known as hypoglycemia sets in potentially leading to symptoms of shock. Also, xylitol may cause a delayed onset of liver failure, even in dogs that appear to not have symptoms.

Symptoms of xylitol toxicity in dogs may therefore arise within minutes or in some cases may be delayed, presenting even 72 hours after ingestion. For this reason, do not presume that your dog is out of the woods should no symptoms arise right away! If your dog ate sugarless gum with xylitol, always consult with a veterinarian for directions and what to watch for.

Amounts Toxic to Dogs

Determining how much xylitol a dog ingested can be challenging because the xylitol content in sugar-less gum may at times be difficult to determine. This is best done by your vet. Keep the candy wrapper with the ingredient list handy when you call your vet and bring it along if your vet wants to see your dog.

As a general rule of thumb though, it can be estimated that the average piece of gum or breath mint may contain anywhere between 0.22 to 1.0 gram of xylitol. This means that a 10 pound dog would just need to eat one piece to ingest a potentially toxic dose, explains Ahna Brutlag, a veterinary toxicologist and assistant director of the Pet Poison Helpline.

According to the ASPCA, it may therefore take 2-3 sticks of gum containing xylitol to cause toxicity in a 20 pound dog. It is a good practice, to always keep the ASPCA's poison control phone number handy for ingestion of toxins and poisons. They will give you instructions and a case number for follow ups with your veterinarian. A $65 charge is applied to your credit card for a consultation. They are open 24/7 365 days a year. They can be reached toll free at 888-426-4435.

Symptoms of Dog Xylitol Toxicity

Vomiting

Lethargy

Weakness

Tremors

Loss of coordination

Seizures

Pale gums

Shock

Collapse

Warning: Even if your dog doesn't show these symptoms right away, consult with your vet! Symptoms may not show up until several hours later.

Treatment for Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs

If your dog ingested sugar less-gum, time is of the essence since your veterinary may give you instructions on how to induce vomiting if the ingestion happened recently and your dog is asymptomatic. If the ingestion happened a while ago, your vet may want to check your dog's blood glucose level first.

Always keep 3 percent hydrogen peroxide handy in your dog's first aid kit for emergencies as these. Your vet will provide instructions on how to induce vomiting in your dog using a dosage of hydrogen peroxide based on your dog's weight.

If your vet determines that inducing vomiting is not an option, your vet will need to monitor your dog's levels of blood glucose. If the blood glucose is low, your dog will likely need dextrose administered intravenously so to maintain normal glucose levels. Dogs are often hospitalized so the blood glucose can be monitored every two hours for at least 12 hours until the values return to normal.

Liver values should also be monitored, but it's important to consider that liver values may not change immediately because xylitol slowly inflames the liver. Liver enzymes are therefore expected to only go up usually after 48 hours after ingesting the gum, explains veterinarian Dr. Gabby. Your vet may want to start supportive therapy for the liver (SAMe, milk thistle, vitamin K1 for liver failure).

Play it safe with your dog. Keep sugarless candies and gums out of reach. An open purse or a night stand are areas easy to reach for any inquisitive dog. Store them safely away as you would keep cabinets locked for toddlers. Better be safe than sorry.

Large ingestions of xylitol (a relatively small amount of the product) that are not caught immediately can result in fulminant liver failure and death despite aggressive supportive care. This can occur in less than 36 hours in dogs that are otherwise young and healthy.

— DVM360

My Dog Ate Gum: Quick Guide on What to Do

So if your dog ate gum, here is a quick guide on what needs done. Considering how quickly things can progress when it comes to xylitol toxicity in dogs, it's always best to be safe than sorry and see your vet.

My Dog Ate Gum, but it's the Regular Type NOT Sugar-Free with Xylitol

In this case, your dog may develop digestive upset especially if a large amount of gum was eaten. If your dog is on the smaller side, there may be chances the gum may cause an obstruction, especially if ingested in large quantities and along with the foil wrappers. If your dog just ate a little gum, you may wish to monitor your dog but contact your vet if you notice any symptoms of a dog intestinal blockage.

My Dog Ate Sugar-free Gum but it Doesn't Contain Xylitol, Only Sorbitol, Aspartame or Mannitol

Mannitol and sorbitol and aspartame are fortunately not toxic to dogs. Yes, just like xylitol, they are considered "sugar alcohols" but we don't see ill effects with dogs ingesting them, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona.

"While other artificial sweeteners aren't known to cause major problems in cats and dogs, there's really no reason you should give them to your pet.," says veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly.

My Dog Ate Xylitol Gum Within the Last Half Hour and is NOT Showing Symptoms

If your dog ingested sugar-less gum within the last half hour, call your vet. Your vet may suggest you induce vomiting at home using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to minimize absorption. Vomiting is induced when dogs have no symptoms. The quantity of hydrogen peroxide to give is based on your dog's weight. If you cannot induce vomiting or don't feel comfortable doing so, see your vet immediately. Your vet can induce vomiting using other methods or can do a gastric lavage. Activated charcoal has not proven to be effective for xylitol toxicity in dogs.

My Dog Ate Xylitol Gum but It's a Small Amount for his Size or the Gum Was Already Chewed

Generally, a 10 pound dog would need to ingest eat one piece of gum to ingest a potentially toxic dose. If your dog ate a small amount for his size or the gum was previously chewed (most xylitol should have been removed when chewed), you may still want to consult with your vet to be safe.

Your vet may tell you to monitor your dog for any symptoms. It may be helpful to feed your dog so that his glucose level can go up. Giving your dog a snack every 2 to 3 hours for the next 12 hours, may be helpful, points out veterinarian Dr. Peter. If your dog won't eat, you can try to rub a teaspoon of pancake syrup or honey directly into his mouth and gums.

My Dog Ate Xylitol Gum More than Half Hour Ago

If your dog ingested sugar-less gum over half hour ago, report to your vet immediately, even if no symptoms are showing. Your vet can provide supportive care so to lower the chances for complications. The earlier you see the vet, the better the prognosis. Consider that symptoms may show up later.

Did you know? On top of being added to many health products, gums, peanut butter and candies, xylitol is now being also added to clothes! Indeed, there is now a line of clothing that has xylitol embedded in it!

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog ate gum with xylitol, play it safe and consult with your vet for treatment.

References:

  • Kuzuya T, Kanazawa Y, Kosaka K. Stimulation of insulin secretion by xylitol in dogs. Endocrinology 1969;84:200-207.
  • . Dunayer EK, Gwaltney-Brant SM. Acute hepatic failure and coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in eight dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:1113-1117.
  • Dunayer EK: Veterinary Medicine December 2006. New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs. p. 791-797
  • Dunayer EK, Gwaltney-Brant SM: Acute hepatic failure and coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in 8 dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006; 229: 1113-1117.
  • Pet Poison Helpline: Xylitol – It’s Not Just in Gum Anymore

© 2008 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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