Chewing gum - the sweet killer

What appears to be a harmless piece of gum to us can be life-threatening to our four-legged friend.  Chewing gum toxicity occurs as a result of xylitol, a sugar-alcohol sweetener used in many human food products.

While xylitol is considered safe in people, in dogs it can result in life-threatening hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels), severe liver disease and blood clotting disorders.  And it only takes as little as 0.1g/kg - that's the equivalent of one or two pieces of gum in a 10kg dog.  Symptoms may begin as early as 30 minutes after ingestion and can last up to two to three days.

In the UK last year over 170 sick dogs were treated for the ingestion of xylitol-containing products and in the US it is considered an emerging toxicosis due to an increase in the number of products containing xylitol such as sugar free gum, mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, oral-care products and baked goods.

In the Manawatu last year one very lucky dog had a narrow escape from xylitol toxicity after ingesting an entire packet of chewing gum - wrapper and all!  Having witnessed the event, the owner quickly had the dog admitted to the vet.  The dog was immediately made to vomit successfully expelling the remaining chewing gum and wrappers.  Over the next hour, the dog was monitored for signs of weakness, lethargy, imbalance, collapse or seizures.  Frequent glucose readings were recorded every 10 minutes to ensure there were no signs of developing hypoglycaemia.

In some cases treatment may include hospitalisation and intravenous fluids with dextrose supplementation.  In more severe patients with liver impairment, antioxidants and liver protectants may be instituted and for blood clotting disorders, plasma or blood transfusions may be required.  Uncomplicated hypoglycaemia carries a good prognosis but the prognosis is guarded in those patients developing liver failure and coagulopathies.