I have never been a fan of commercial water additives or topical oral products that purport to prevent dental disease in dogs, because I’ve never encountered one that works. However, a recent inquiry from a reader alerted me to a new threat: some commercial “plaque reducers” contain toxic xylitol. Here’s the letter.
I am owned by five rescued Dachshunds with varying degrees of gum and teeth problems. My oldest has had two dental surgeries removing 20 teeth and won’t let anyone near her teeth,but after spending hundreds on dental cleanings for each one of them I need a way to keep their mouths clean and healthy for less.
I found articles where xylitol is deadly for dogs, and it seems to be an ingredient in all the plaque removers for dogs.
Dallas, Mockingbird Dog Park, TX
I was incredulous when I read this. Xylitol is a zero-calorie sugar substitute that is touted as a great step forward for humans. It tastes like sugar and it prevents the growth of bacteria that cause dental disease in humans. It is widely available in sugarless gums and, I am sorry to say (for reasons outlined below), it is becoming more common.
Xylitol is famously toxic to dogs. Xylitol in the bloodstream tricks some dogs’ bodies into thinking that it is real sugar. These dogs then react as if their blood sugar is too high, their bodies release insulin to lower their blood sugar, and their real blood sugar levels crash dangerously low. Low blood sugar levels from xylitol ingestion can lead to coma, seizures, and death. I know one person whose dog required five days of intensive care and continuous sugar infusions.
But sadly, the horrors of xylitol toxicity don’t end there. Some dogs that consume it will suffer liver damage or life-threatening liver failure. The cause has not been definitively determined, but the threat has been well documented.
Adding xylitol to human plaque reducers makes sense. However, adding it to canine ones is insanity. Would any manufacturer actually add a known toxin to a canine product?
A quick Google search revealed the sad truth. The answer is yes. Consider, for instance, Breathalyser PLUS, a water additive. A website selling it lists the ingredients as follows (emphasis mine).
Purified water, Glycerine, Hydroxymethyl-cellulose gum, xylitol, polysorbate 20, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, barley malt extract, zinc gluconate, proteolytic enzyme (Emilgase), FD&C Blue No. 1 & chlorhedidene [sic] digluconate 0.049% w/w as a preservative.
I unequivocally recommend that no dog owner use this, or any, product that claims to prevent plaque in dogs. In the best case, you’ll waste your money. In worse cases, the product will contain a known poison.
Susan, thank you for alerting me to this travesty. I recommend that you attempt to habituate your dogs to toothbrushing over time (admittedly, this is easier in puppies than in adult rescues, but it may still be possible). If that fails, consider regular dental work at intervals that prevent serious problems from developing (such work should be less expensive than the sort of work that corrects major disease). But under any circumstances, please avoid plaque “preventers” that contain xylitol.
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