Read Labels of Prepared Foods & Snacks

Have I ever mentioned that dogs and cats are not little people in furry suits? Oh, sure, they’re like us in lots of ways. They snuggle and play and talk to us, which may be why we keep them as pets rather than, say, cockroaches or earthworms. Be careful. There are species differences that can lead to trouble.

From time-to-time in this column I’ve explained the risks of holiday hazards, household toxins, and human medications. But people food – especially the processed kind – can blindside you and your dog. A sugar substitute called xylitol is rapidly growing in popularity. It can show up in the most unexpected places.

Dogs love peanut and almond butter. Sticky and tasty, they’re great in food-dispensing toys, for hiding pills, and for teaching a dog to touch a target stick. Before sharing an appetizing glob with your best friend read the label. Nuts ’N More is just one brand that’s sweetened with xylitol. Others are likely to follow.

There are good reasons why people are likely to consume more snacks that contain xylitol. Beyond our enjoyment of sweet foods and chewing gum this stuff is actually healthy for us. It helps prevent cavities and tooth decay and it promotes remineralization of enamel. Xylitol is good for those of us with teeth we want to keep and for folks with diabetes or who may be pre-diabetic. Found in some brands of chewing gum including Dentyne Ice, Orbit, and Trident White, it’s poisonous to dogs. Some candy, mints, and chewable vitamins have it too, along with a few prescription medications including Neurontin liquid and some generic brands of alprazolam, clonazepam, and mirtazapine.

Veterinarians are serious about xylitol toxicity because it can drive down blood sugar and cause hypoglycemic seizures in dogs. If a dog eats enough food with xylitol or raids your supply of sweetened gum she can suffer liver failure. Pets suspected of ingesting this sweetener need medical attention ASAP. Waiting for convulsions is a bad gamble.

There is no current information on the risk of xylitol to cats.  Most kitties are less interested in sweets than dogs. Our pets are different. Read labels carefully or just play it safe and pet-proof your home.