Little-known ingredient is even more deadly to dogs than chocolate

Published: Sep. 22, 2016 at 8:28 PM EDT
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When it comes to man's best friend, everyone knows how their nose can get them into trouble.

Sniffing and snacking may be your dog's favorite hobbies, outside of playing ball of course, but pet owners need to make sure their nose doesn't lead them to eating a substance that is reported to be 100 times more toxic to dogs than chocolate.

While little 10-year-old Briley is happy and healthy now, when she was just a curious puppy, eating a piece of gum almost cost her life. She belongs to Sue Goldman, Dr. Linda Kuhn's office manager at East Carolina Veterinary Service.

Goldman says when she came home one day, her sitter told her that Briley had gotten into her purse and ate a piece of gum.

"I was concerned that the gum might cause an intestinal problem so I called Dr. Kuhn," Goldman says. "She recommended I bring her in right away."

She says she had never heard of the ingredient that is commonly found in sugar-free items, even peanut butter.

Briley became Dr. Kuhn's first case of such a poisoning.

"It's called xylitol," says Dr. Kuhn. "It's a sweetener. In the past it was mostly found in chewing gum because it actually helps prevent cavities. Now it's in mouthwash, toothpaste, baking soda, shampoo, makeup. The number of items goes up by the day."

The vet says its prevalence an accident waiting to happen. "It causes them to develop a severe hypoglycemia. Their blood sugar drops very very quickly and that can cause coma and death and it also injures the liver as well."

"I was extremely fearful, unfortunately I didn't really know what I was dealing with at first and I'm lucky that I said something because it could have been a totally different outcome," says Goldman.

Dr. Kuhn says her office manager isn't alone and that many pet owners have never even heard of xylitol, but she says it's one of the most common poisonings according to the Pet Poison Hotline.

You don't just need to watch out for what your dog gets into at home, your curious pup could come in contact with the ingredient even while on a walk.

"A person let his dog eat a piece of gum off the ground and it killed the dog," warns Dr. Kuhn. "If it's a small dog like Briley, within 10 minutes, they can be experiencing low blood sugar. They'll first look like they're drunk and they may have vomiting and diarrhea and may pass out and go into a coma."

That's why it's important to get your dog to the vet quickly, even if they look fine. Dr. Kuhn says she would really like to see a warning label on any product with the ingredient.

She also recommends keeping purses out of reach, watching what you leave out on nightstands and small tables, always checking ingredients and to try and never bring xylitol inside your home.