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Dog chews Ice Breakers gum, nearly dies from Xylitol poisoning

By: 29 May 2010 4 Comments

ROGERS — The plastic shopping bag was left on the floor, with a container of sugar-free gum inside.

Miles, an inquisitive puppy, investigated and consumed part of the bag’s contents.

He spent a Sunday morning through a Wednesday evening at two different veterinarians’ offices, because the Xylitol in the sugar-free, strawberry flavored Ice Breakers gum made Miles deathly ill.
He even went into liver failure.

The Reiser family of Rogers, Ark., discovered Miles and his plight after they came home on a Sunday morning from eating breakfast at a local restaurant.

“When we walked in, his ears were low and he had thrown up once on our bedroom floor and and once on our bed,” said Miles’ owner, Jeni Reiser.

Miles consumed 18 pieces of the gum, which contained Xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as an artificial sweetener.

Pure xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar, according to the website www.xylitol.org. Xylitol is slowly absorbed and only partially used in human bodies. Xylitol has 2.4 calories per gram, about 40 percent less than other carbohydrates, according to Xylitol.org.

Xylitol has been used in foods since the 1960s. Xylitol is approved in the United States as a food additive in unlimited quantity for foods with special dietary purposes, like in sugar-free gum to prevent cavities.

Though the sugar alcohol is fine for people, veterinarians have much to say about Xylitol’s dangers for dogs.

“Dogs can develop serious, even life-threatening, signs from Xylitol ingestion,” said Erik K. Dunayer, a veterinarian who consults with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

People and rats absorb Xylitol slowly and partially, but dogs absorb it rapidly and completely, Dunaver said in an article posted in December 2006 on the ASPCA website, www.aspca.org.

Researchers first discovered the poisonous effects of Xylitol on dogs in the 1960s. Xylitol has been around since the late 1800s but was not used much in food or drinks until the latter half of the 20th Century.

Xylitol causes dogs to release insulin, which causes blood glucose levels to drop. Dogs also can have seizures and elevated liver enzyme activity, resulting in liver failure, Dunayer’s article stated.

Miles’ symptoms might have gone unnoticed if he chewed less of the gum, Reiser said.

“It was almost better that he ate so much. It made him so sick. If he had only eaten three pieces, we probably wouldn’t have realized and he would just have been dead within a day,” Reiser said.

Miles goes for a ride after recovering from his illness.

She recalled reading or seeing somewhere that, like grapes and chocolate, Xylitol could be harmful to dogs.

Jeni’s husband, Jason Reiser, searched the Internet for details about Ice Breakers gum and learned it indeed contained Xylitol. Jeni Reiser then called Faithful Friends, a veterinary clinic near her home in Rogers, but it was Sunday and no one was there.

However, Reiser said the veterinarian’s office had a recorded message with the emergency number for Animal Emergency Clinic of Northwest Arkansas in Springdale, less than 20 minutes from Rogers.
“I called them and they said to get Miles there right away. I still thought it was bad, but not that bad. I had never heard of what happened to these dogs,” Jeni Reiser said.

The Springdale emergency veterinarian clinic admitted Miles and induced vomiting.

“That’s what saved him,” Jeni Reiser said. “The vet told the girls and I that he didn’t think Miles was going to make it through the night. Of course, we were devastated and in disbelief.”

Miles, still a puppy, weighed only 15 pounds and as few as three pieces of gum containing Xylitol could be lethal to a 65-pound dog.
Miles spent his nights in the Springdale emergency quarters, then spent days at Faithful Friends in Rogers.

“They had to put him on dextrose IVs to keep his blood sugars stable,” Jeni Reiser said. “Well, they kept his levels perfect for 72 straight hours and he managed to only have minor liver damage. MIles had to take liver meds for 30 days.”

Reiser contacted The Hershey Co., the maker of Ice Breakers gum. She wanted to get a Xylitol warning label put on the gum. Reiser received a letter dated March 18 from Ann Schreckengost, a Hershey’s customer service representative.

The letter stated Xylitol occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables and is produced commercially from vegetation and hardwood trees like the birch.

“Like many food ingredients that are intended for consumption by humans, it can cause problems if it is consumed by animals or pets,” the Hershey’s letter stated.

Jeni Reiser of Rogers, Ark., holds Miles, the dog who nearly died from Xylitol poisoning.

“Hershey encourages all pet owners to follow the advice of animal experts and to keep chewing gum, candy, macadamia nuts and any sugar-free products out of reach of their pets,” the letter continued.

Some gum products specify the Xylitol content on labels, but most gums contain several sugar alcohols. They include sorbitol, isomalt, maltitol and mannitol, making it hard for the average consumer or pet owner to determine Xylitol content, Dunayer said in his article.

Miles is recovered from his chewing gum episode. He celebrated his one year birthday on April 25. That’s happy news for the Reiser family, who rescued Miles as a stray.

“I found him on the side of the road as a three-pound puppy in Bella Vista, (Arkansas). My husband has fallen in love with him over the year,” Jeni Reiser said.

His medical misadventure did not dampen Miles’ personality.

“Miles is the little dickens he’s always been. Turns out he likes most people, but likes to pick one or two not to like. When he loves you, he is a love bug. When he doesn’t, he growls and pretends he’s a Rottweiler,” Jeni Reiser said.

About: Lana F. Flowers:
Lana F. Flowers is a gifted Arkansas reporter who can handle news about Walmart and retail, movie and book reviews, human interest stories, features and anything else you'd care to mention. She lives in Rogers, Ark., with her husband Jesse, daughter Layla, cats Lottie Boots and Emmy, and dog Fuzzy. Send an email -- fashionablewords@yahoo.com

4 Comments »

  • Colton Zeimetz said:

    These were very delicious!

  • Jamie said:

    OMGosh!!!!! This happened to my dog last night. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong until we read this article. He’s coming home tonight. Thank goodness.

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