By Kevin Fitzgerald, DVM
A friend recently noticed my dog nosing around my purse and told me to be careful, as some types of gum are poisonous to dogs. Is this true?
Absolutely. For dogs, the danger in gum is the ingredient xylitol. This sugar substitute is harmless to humans; even in high doses, side effects are little more than a mild laxative effect. But for dogs, eating just a small amount can be serious and even fatal. Recently, xylitol has also been reported to be toxic to ferrets. Xylitol is in sugar-free chewing gum, as well as in mints, sugar-free candy, vitamins, and some toothpastes.
In dogs, ingestion of xylitol causes an immediate release of insulin and a subsequent drop in blood sugar that can result in depression, weakness, stumbling, vomiting, decrease in potassium, seizures, liver disease, and even acute liver failure. It has been shown that it takes only one-half a gram of xylitol (one piece of sugar-free gum has from one-half to one gram of xylitol) per 2.2 pounds to cause liver failure. Therefore, the smaller the dog, the less required to be toxic.
Dogs have a sweet tooth and will greedily find and eat anything with sugar or a sugar substitute. Signs of toxicity may develop in as fast as 30 minutes. In cases of severe overdose, the initial signs of poisoning may not be noted and the syndrome may progress directly to liver failure.
If your dog eats xylitol, seek veterinary care immediately. Try to estimate just how much your dog has eaten. If it is soon after ingestion, your veterinarian may induce vomiting.
The best treatment is prevention: Keep all sweets out of purses and automobiles, and off coffee tables and kitchen counters. And only use veterinary-approved pet toothpastes—never human toothpaste.
Recently, I purchased a standard Poodle puppy. My neighbor told me that with this breed I had to be careful of “bloat.” Is that serious?
The medical term for bloat is acute gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), and it is one of the few true surgical emergencies. In this condition, gas builds up in the stomach, stretching it painfully. In some cases, the stomach also rotates along its long axis, a condition called torsion, which prevents the gas from escaping. Once the stomach twists, it continues to dilate as a result of bacterial fermentation. Rotation and dilation both stretch the ligaments that help hold the stomach in place. The result is shock, sepsis, vascular collapse, and death, even within minutes.
Bloat can occur in any species of animal (including humans) and in any breed of dog. It can happen in either sex, and older animals are more at risk. At our practice, aside from dogs, GDV is frequently seen in guinea pigs. However, it is most commonly seen in large-breed dogs with deep and narrow chests, such as Great Danes, Gordon and Irish setters, Weimaraners, standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, and Saint Bernards.
All dog owners should familiarize themselves with the warning signs of bloat (see above). It’s important to realize that bloat is different from a distended stomach that results from overeating or the collection of air in the stomach of a panting dog. Beyond anatomy, risk factors for bloat include diet, stress, and heredity, although the exact cause of GDV has never been identified.
Typically, the diagnoses of GDV can be made by physical exam alone. X-rays can distinguish between simple distension and GDV. Treatment involves quickly relieving the pressure on the stomach, either by passing a tube down the throat into the stomach, or inserting a needle through the abdominal wall. Decompression of the stomach increases the available blood supply, improves breathing, and counters the shock.
Once the dog is stable enough to undergo anesthesia, surgery is recommended to “tack” the stomach to the body wall to prevent reoccurrence of torsion. If tacking is not performed, the rate of reoccurrence of bloat can be as high as 80 percent. A variety of surgical techniques have been developed for stomach tacking; your veterinarian will decide on the best procedure for your dog.
Mortality rates for dogs with GDV have been reported to be between 10 and 50 percent. Survival is directly dependent upon how long the stomach was rotated, so getting your dog treated quickly is key. The prognosis is good for dogs that are treated early and undergo a tacking procedure.
Even after tacking, though, a dog can get bloat; the stomach can still distend, although it can’t rotate. The risk of bloat can be reduced by feeding smaller, more frequent meals (two or more each day).
For some breeds, it’s recommended that their stomachs be preventively tacked when they are neutered or spayed. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your dog is a candidate for such a procedure and which technique would be best employed.
Next: 10 Grooming Myths: Busted!
Warning Signs of Bloat
Because time is of the essence in treating bloat, all dog owners should familiarize themselves with the following symptoms. Each is a danger sign; when occurring in combination, call a veterinarian immediately.
–Swelling and tightening of the abdomen
–Restlessness, including circling and pacing in an uncharacteristic manner
Kevin Fitzgerald, DVM, is a staff veterinarian at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver and is featured on Animal Planet’s E-Vet Interns.
Originally appeared in AKC Family Dog magazine.