7 On Your Side warns of sugar substitute that could be fatal to dogs

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022
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There is a consumer warning for pet owners about a sugar substitute called Xylitol that is harmless for humans but can be fatal to dogs.

WESTWOOD, New Jersey (WABC) -- There is a consumer warning for pet owners about a sugar substitute called Xylitol that is harmless for humans but can be fatal to dogs.

In fact, it kill canines within an hour.

Xylitol is in everything from sugarless gum to toothpaste to even blueberries. 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda has some preventative medicine that could save your beloved pooch's life.

"He was in this family, so it was really hard," said dog owner Dr. Andrew Holycross, whose dog was poisoned by Xylitol. "We were just absolutely devastated."

The Holycross family got Wolfie to help them heal after they son Canyon died unexpectedly. Then, last year, the pup died from liver failure 48 hours after swallowing Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

"He probably ate 15 or more pieces of it before he was discovered," Andrew said.

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As a biologist, Holycross was aware of the dangers of Xylitol in animals. They kept it out of the house, but assumed the Juicy Fruit Original contained sugar -- but the main ingredient in the gum is Xylitol.

Also known as birch sugar, it's a sugar substitute gaining in popularity in products that are marketed as sugar-free. It's in gum, mints, some peanut butter, and ice cream.

Small amounts of Xylitol's are natural in fruit like strawberries and blueberries, but it's highly concentrated in certain products and is usually the very first ingredient listed.

"What happens with animals is that they metabolize things a lot differently than people do," said Dr. Taylor McConnell, with Westwood Regional Veterinary Hospital. "It can happen super quick, so pets become hypoglycemic...They'll sometimes collapse, and they can even have seizures."

Dr. McConnell says to have your pet seen right away. At Westwood Regional, they usually induce vomiting. But if the toxins have absorbed, it could be fatal.

That's what happened to Cody, Nina Pineda's brother's 7-year-old husky mix, which died last month after eating Ice Breaker's Ice Cubes gum. Despite thousands of dollars spent on emergency plasma treatment, Cody's liver shut down.

Nina's nephew Nico's constant companion died in 72 hours, and when she posted the heartbreaking story on Facebook, hundreds shared -- including Facebook groups advocating for awareness and labeling.

Most people have no clue that between 2015 and 2020, calls about Xylitol poison to the Pet Poison Helpline increased 108%

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Dr. Holycross has convinced his US Congressman in Arizona to propose legislation after Wolfie's death, and the bipartisan Paws Off Act of 2021 seeks to label products with a warning specifying the toxic effects of Xylitol for dogs if ingested.

There's a warning on Mentos made in Europe.

We asked American manufacturers Hershey, which makes the Ice Cubes gun, and and Mars, which makes Juicy Fruit, about the Paws Off bill and dog deaths from eating Xylitol contained in their products.

"Labeling would not change these situations," Hershey said in a statement. "Hershey has long encouraged pet owners to keep such foods well out of reach of inquisitive pets."

Mars, Inc, also responded, saying, "We are not currently engaged in this legislation but remain very committed to educating pet owners about common foods and products that are exclusively intended as snacks and treats for humans."

"People are arguing, take it off the shelves," Holycross said. "I'm not arguing for that. Let them sell their products. But they must be fair and transparent and label it."

More Xylitol resources:

--FDA warning

--Preventive Vet warning

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