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By: Janette Blackwood, DVM
My husband and I have an inside joke where he knows that I become enraged when we purchase a product from the supermarket, only to get it home and find out that it contains an artificial or alternative sweetener. I take a bite out of the item, say “Why is this gross?”, and throw a fit like a toddler when I read the label. I think the last thing he accidentally purchased was Welch’s Light Grape Juice, that only reading the fine print on the label revealed that it contained aspartame. My point is always that I think that that labeling on our food should be more obvious. This could not be even more important when it comes to the recent addition of xylitol to a few brands of peanut butter during the last few months.
Xylitol is actually not an artificial sweetener, but a naturally derived sugar alcohol. In 2006, I first read about the use of xylitol in sugar free gum in an article of Veterinary Medicine.
The problem occurs when dogs accidentally (or purposely) ingest the product. Due to differences in canine and human metabolism, dogs ingesting products containing xylitol experience profound life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and can develop hepatic necrosis (liver failure). Sometimes, pet owners have no idea when they bring their pet to the veterinarian on emergency for seizures that their home even contained products with xylitol as an ingredient. In fact, it wasn’t until today when I made the effort to look up xylitol containing products that I even realized that I had been carrying around a tin of breath mints in my purse that would be toxic for my dog Radar to find and eat.
The recent addition of xylitol to certain peanut butter brands (Nuts ‘n More, Krush Nutrition, and P-28 Foods) becomes even more tricky for a few reasons. For one thing, limited labeling on the products may make it hard for consumers to realize that they are even purchasing a product containing this ingredient. You have to really make an effort to read the fine print on the nutrition label. Limited labeling on some products has also made it difficult to know the exact amount of xylitol contained in a spoonful of the product for example, making it difficult for veterinarians to know how much of the toxic ingredient a dog has ingested. Lastly, for years, peanut butter has been recommended by veterinarians as an easy vehicle to be used by pet owners to administer pills. I know that Radar loves a little bit of peanut butter (or the sugar-loaded Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter) when my husband gives him his morning dose of gabapentin for his chronic back issues.
Here is a link to an article in DVM360 with more information.
Janette Blackwood, DVM