Xylitol is a sugar-substitute found in lots of human sweets, medicines and gums. It’s poisonous to dogs, but cats appear to be resistant to xylitol toxicity, except at very high doses.
Xylitol is a relatively common cause of nasty poisoning in dogs. This happens because xylitol triggers a sharp drop in blood sugar. But studies in cats suggest they don’t suffer the same reaction as dogs. Cats who eat large amounts of xylitol (more than 1.0g/kg) may show some drop in blood sugar, but it would be unlikely to cause symptoms. Cats are also much more discerning in their eating habits than dogs (or humans). And so are much less likely to eat anything containing a sugar substitute.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a versatile ingredient. It comes in granular form, just like sugar. It’s used to replace sugar in low-calorie and sugar-free versions of many commercial products.
Some facts about xylitol:
- Contains 40% fewer calories than sugar.
- Helps combat tooth decay. Xylitol prevents bacteria in the mouth from producing acid – the reverse of sugar.
Possible sources of xylitol poisoning:
- Gum and sweets: a single stick of ‘sugar-free’ gum contains up to 1g of xylitol. Enough to poison a small dog.
- Granules for use in tea, coffee or baking
- Cakes, puddings, biscuits, peanut butter, sugar-free jams and spreads, pie fillings
- Mouthwash, toothpaste, chewable vitamins, supplements, sugar-free liquids, and dispersible medicines such as pain-relievers (Calpol®), allergy medicines, sleeping aids, laxatives
Xylitol poisoning in cats: what would be the symptoms?
Symptoms of low blood sugar develop rapidly in xylitol poisoning, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption. However, it may take up to 12 hours if xylitol is contained in a product that releases it more slowly (gum, for example). Symptoms would be those of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
What are the risks xylitol poisoning in cats?
Cats have little appetite for sweet things, so the risk of xylitol poisoning in cats is low. However, there are always exceptions! And it’s also not impossible that individual cats may be unusually susceptible to the effects of xylitol on blood glucose.
Are other sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners likely to be poisonous to cats?
- Steviol, maltitol, sorbitol, sucralose and saccharin are not dangerous to cats.
- Very high levels of consumption may trigger tummy upsets.
Are humans or other pets at risk of xylitol poisoning?
Xylitol is not poisonous to humans. In fact, it’s widely used because of its perceived health benefits to humans.
Dogs are much more at risk of poisoning than cats.
How would vets diagnose xylitol poisoning in cats?
Vets usually diagnose xylitol poisoning from an owner’s report of what their cat has eaten and the symptoms of low blood sugar. A simple blood test would confirm if your cat had low blood glucose.
How would vets treat xylitol poisoning in cats?
There are no cures for or antidotes to xylitol poisoning. And xylitol is absorbed into the body very rapidly after it’s eaten. If your cat eats something they shouldn’t, your vet can give them an injection to empty their tummy by making them sick (emesis). This can help minimise absorption and ill effects. But it only helps if the injection is given very quickly. It’s too late if symptoms have already developed.
Treatment for low blood sugar effects:
- Admission to a vet clinic for intensive treatment and monitoring as an in-patient.
- Fluids containing sugar (dextrose) given into your cat’s veins.
Xylitol poisoning in cats: how you can help at home
If you suspect your cat has eaten something containing a lot of xylitol:
- Call your nearest vet immediately
- Give them honey, jam or sugary water if they start to show symptoms but can safely swallow
- Smear jam or honey on gums if swallowing is risky
- Always take the packaging or a photo of the ingredients of what your cat has eaten to show your vet
How to prevent any risk of xylitol poisoning in cats
- Keep all human foods, sweets and medicines out of reach, sight and smell of cats
- Dental care products, such as mouthwashes, rinses and water additives for cats may all contain xylitol as an active ingredient. These are perfectly safe if you follow manufacturer’s directions carefully for correct dilution and use.
When to worry
When to worry about xylitol poisoning in cats
If your cat could have eaten anything containing xylitol and shows any of the following symptoms, call a vet without delay:
- Looking unsteady or unable to stand
- Is having seizures
- Has collapsed or is unresponsive
Joii can help with:
- 24/7 advice if your cat eats something it shouldn’t
- Safe effective use of dental care products for cats