Many things that we as humans eat or consume are safe for dogs, but there are a few items that we cannot share due to their toxicity in canines. Sugarless chewing gum is one of these items, which often is not common knowledge. We frequently receive phone calls through the ER service regarding things animals have eaten with questions about their effects, and Twinkie was one such case.
It was an icy Saturday in mid-February when her owner called to report that she had somehow nosed her way into the owner’s purse and removed some sugarless gum from the side pocket. It was a mystery how the height challenged miniature dachshund had accomplished this since the purse was placed on the kitchen counter, but the main concern was that she had chewed on and actually eaten about twelve sticks of gum. We advised the owner to bring her in right away so that we could address this dietary indiscretion.
The fourth year veterinary student on duty rushed little Twinkie to ICU upon arrival where we immediately administered an intravenous medication to cause her to vomit the contents of her stomach. The chemical in sugarless gum that makes it sweet is called xylitol. This particular agent is fine for humans but results in low blood sugar and possible liver damage in dogs, even when only small amounts have been ingested. Twinkie had eaten enough to affect her blood sugar, as it was already low when we measured it soon after she was admitted. It appeared that the dosage she consumed was not enough to cause liver damage, but we would need to check this with blood tests.
“Wow! That smells great! Must have been spearmint flavored,” my student exclaimed with an amused smile when the offending gum reappeared, which I had to admit did smell quite nice. We were pleased that our efforts to expel her stomach contents had been successful, as this helps to remove the xylitol that could continue to be absorbed and metabolized. We also felt a bit sorry for the tiny black and tan dog, as the medication used to remove the gum from her stomach can make them feel very nauseous and slightly intoxicated for a brief time.
“Sorry little girl. Let’s get you set up for the weekend,” I told Twinkie as we placed her ICU cage for a weekend stay. At the dosage she consumed she would need to stay for at least 24 hours to have her blood sugar closely monitored and have it supplemented intravenously with dextrose if it was too low. Thankfully, despite her small size, Twinkie had a great appetite. We were able to remove her dextrose treatments fairly quickly and offered her food on a regular basis to keep her blood sugar up. Twinkie did well and was actually able to go home the next evening, but she was very lucky.
This toxicity can be deadly and we have lost patients due to the irreparable liver damage that occurs depending on how much is consumed, and many owners do not realize this fact. Prompt treatment can make a difference, but keeping dogs away from any sugarless gum is the best measure.
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)