Is the artificial sweetener xylitol poisonous to cats?

According to a small study of six cats carried out in Hungary and published in the journal Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, xylitol is not poisonous to cats (the study is listed at the base of the page with comment). The study was published in June 2018 and up to that point it wasn’t clear whether xylitol was toxic to cats. There appears to be a small chance that xylitol could be toxic to some cats, perhaps cats of a certain breed or age. But I would doubt that if the scientists have stated that it is not toxic to cats generally. They also appear to be some possibility that xylitol can damage liver cells. I would certainly check with your veterinarian on this.

Xylitol a sugar-free sweetener is highly toxic to dogs but not cats
Xylitol a sugar-free sweetener is highly toxic to dogs but not cats. Photo: Preventative Vet.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The question in the title is worth asking because xylitol is highly toxic to dogs. As they like to eat almost anything including cat faeces out of the litter tray sometimes, they’re more likely than cats to scavenge pieces of gum from the pavement which is exactly what happened to Christine Grisdale from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

She was out for a walk with her whippet who ate a piece of gum and, tragically, she died within 12 hours. Her veterinarian said that it was a classic case of xylitol poisoning.

It is also a reminder that foods which are delicious and acceptable to people can be lethal to companion animals. In fact, xylitol is said to have ‘numerous beneficial effects on human health’ (the study referred to). A lot of pet owners are unaware of the dangers of xylitol which is an artificial sweetener also listed under the label E967. It is found in nicotine gum and some brands of peanut butter as well as sugar-free gum. Dr. Nicola Robinson of the Veterinary Poisons Information Service says that one pellet of chewing gum is enough to lead to treatment for a small dog if they’ve ingested it. The service received 391 telephone calls about xylitol during 2020.

The manufacturers of chewing gum have promised to spend £2 million on a cleanup. It would be nice also to think that people who have the habit of throwing used chewing gum on the ground might reconsider what they are doing if they knew about the toxicity of this product to the companion dog.

It would seem to me that the danger of sugar-free chewing gum on the pavement to dogs is ever present. The problem is that it is so toxic to them. It only takes a fleeting moment for a dog to scavenge a piece of chewing gum and be killed by it. That’s bound to cause anxiety in a dog caregiver.

There are petitions and articles online on social media about this ever-present hazard. There appears to be a need to improve labelling.

I have written an article about the toxicity of xylitol to dogs which you can read by clicking on this link if you wish.

The study: Effects of p.o. administered xylitol in cats by Á. Jerzsele, Z. Karancsi, E. Pászti-Gere, Á. Sterczer, A. Bersényi, K. Fodor, D. Szabó, P. Vajdovich.

The study looked into whether xylitol caused hypoglycaemia and acute hepatic failure in cats. They employed six healthy middle-aged cats. They used three different doses which would have been toxic and even fatal to dogs. They found that there were no significant changes in any of the haematological or biochemical parameters of the cats. Blood glucose concentrations showed no significant alterations.

Comment: they risked the lives of six cats in order to find out whether xylitol was toxic to them. I don’t like that. This was an animal experiment. It was useful, obviously, but the purpose of the experiment was to improve human knowledge about cat health and welfare. In order to achieve that goal, they threatened the health to the point of a fatality of six cats. Does that seem right to you?

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