In May 2017, Katherine Dalton got the shock of her life. Her eldest son called her at work to say that their dog Sookie had become unconscious.
When Katherine rushed home, she found Sookie unresponsive and drooling, her eyes rolling back and upwards. The dog had apparently found and eaten about two dozen strips of sugar-free chewing gum. So she rushed Sookie to the veterinary hospital, where the doctor managed to save her life.
But wait: could all of that really be caused by the chewing gum? We chew gum lots of times. (Sometimes we accidentally swallow it!) Nothing bad ever happens to us. So can dogs eat gum, too?
- 1 Life-threatening
- 2 Why xylitol is particularly dangerous
- 3 Signs of xylitol poisoning
- 4 Emergency first aid
- 5 Emergency treatment
- 6 The bottom line: prevention
No, chewing gum isn’t safe for dogs to eat — especially the so-called “sugar-free” kind! Here’s why.
Ordinarily, the gum base itself isn’t that dangerous. It’s usually made with indigestible ingredients like chicle or synthetic gum, synthetic resin, food-grade agar, etc., and can be swallowed in small portions and easily passed out the digestive system (through poop).
However, that’s for small portions. Dogs don’t know that. Once they get their paws and mouths onto those sweet-smelling gumballs or chewing gum, they will chew and swallow as much of it as they can. And their digestive systems are smaller than ours, so they may have difficulty passing all of that gum out — causing all sorts of problems for your vet to sort out. (This is especially true for the toy dog breeds.)
More importantly, many chewing gum brands now use one or more artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, mannitol, sucralose, saccharin, or xylitol. In small doses, these sugarless gums and sweeteners are safe for human consumption, but not necessarily for dogs.
And xylitol is the most notorious of the bunch. Xylitol is toxic to dogs, even in small doses, and can prove fatal.
Why xylitol is particularly dangerous
Here’s what xylitol does to a dog’s body:
- Hypoglycemia. The presence of xylitol in the canine bloodstream causes blood sugar to drop down to dangerous levels (hypoglycemia). This is because a dog’s pancreas “reads” xylitol as natural sugar, then starts releasing more insulin. Unfortunately, that extra insulin ends up eliminating the real blood sugar or glucose present in the bloodstream — which puts all of the dog’s systems in critical condition.
- Liver damage or liver failure. On rare occasions, xylitol causes severe liver damage or liver failure instead. Exactly how or why this happens is not yet known. Researchers only know that such cases occur less than once every thousand, that it doesn’t always seem to be related to the amount of xylitol.
Researchers have concluded that it takes about 100 milligrams of xylitol per kilogram of the dog’s body weight to cause hypoglycemia. But chewing gums that do use xylitol typically has a whopping 0.22 to 1.00 gram of the sweetener per ball or gum strip! This means that just one gumball or gum strip is enough to put your dog in danger.
Signs of xylitol poisoning
You’ll know that a dog is suffering from xylitol toxicity if he starts displaying the following symptoms 30 minutes to 12 hours after swallowing the xylitol-laden chewing gum:
- Weakness or lethargy
- Disorientation and uncoordinated movements
- Uncontrollable shaking (i.e., tremors) or seizures
- Fainting or collapsing
- An unconscious and unresponsive state (i.e., a coma)
Emergency first aid
So if your dog does eat chewing gum, treat it as an emergency. Here are the first steps you should immediately take:
Step 1. Confirm what sort of gum it was.
Do you know exactly what brand and type of chewing gum your dog ate? What are the ingredients that make up its gum base, flavor, fragrance, and sweetness? Was it a sugar-free gum? What sweetener does it use, and does it include xylitol?
Take note of all these; you and your veterinarian will need this information. (Or, if the product wrapper or packaging is still available, save it so you can show it to the vet.)
Step 2. Consult the vet immediately.
With or without xylitol in the gum, you must bring your dog to the veterinary hospital as soon as you can. The vet will decide on the safest way to eliminate the swallowed gum from your dog’s digestive tract. This is not only for decontaminating your dog’s system (in case there’s xylitol in the gum) but also to avoid any intestinal blockage the gum itself can cause.
In case you are unable to bring your dog to the hospital within the next few hours, go phone the vet and ask for his or her advice on what first aid to give your dog. If your situation is desperate and there’s xylitol involved, the vet might advise you to feed your dog some burnt toast and a few tablespoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, to help induce vomiting and reduce the amount xylitol absorbed.
Note: Do not skip bringing your dog to the hospital, even after performing any first aid like this at home under the vet’s guidance. Again, bring your dog to the hospital as soon as you can.
Once you’re at the veterinary hospital, be sure to inform the receiving staff and the vet precisely what sort of gum your dog ate and what symptoms he may be exhibiting at the moment.
For non-toxic gum
If the gum your dog swallowed doesn’t have toxins like xylitol, the vet may help your dog pass the gum out safely by prescribing only a mild laxative. (Note: the actual gum that passes out might not be visible in your dog’s poop.) If your dog eats, poos, pees, and moves normally in the coming days — and your vet sees nothing odd about your dog upon the next examination — your dog is safe.
For xylitol poisoning
But if the gum has xylitol, the vet will initiate rapid decontamination. (Note: this will be done even when your dog isn’t exhibiting symptoms of xylitol poisoning yet.) Decontamination will be done either through induced vomiting or gastric lavage.
- Induced vomiting – The vet will apply a drug or chemical solution that will cause your dog to start throwing up the contents of his stomach.
- Gastric lavage – Your dog will be placed under general anesthesia for this. A tube will be passed through his mouth and esophagus till it reaches his stomach. The contents of his stomach will be pumped out. Water will also be pumped in and out to “rinse” the stomach clear of the toxin.
Your dog needs to stay at the hospital for additional treatment and round-the-clock care. The vet will hook him up to an IV drip to apply dextrose solution and other fluids. Your dog’s blood sugar levels and liver will also be monitored. All of this will be done until his condition stabilizes and he gets back to normal.
Now that you know how bothersome and dangerous chewing gum and xylitol are to dogs, here’s how to make sure your dog never gets the chance to lick or eat these.
- If you like using chewing gum, breath mints, and other candies, keep them hidden, zipped up, and out of reach inside your purse or locked drawers.
- Teach your children and other members of your family to keep these out of the dog’s reach.
- Xylitol isn’t just in the chewing gum or candies. It’s used in other food as well, including peanut butter. So when buying food you plan to feed to your dog as well, check the back label for the full list of ingredients. Make sure xylitol isn’t included.
Remember: when it comes to dogs and chewing gum, prevention is better than the cure!