Kate Chacksfield had no idea her dog, Ruby, was in danger. Ruby had snuck and eaten two brownies made with xylitol, the natural sugar substitute. Unaware that xylitol is toxic to dogs, Chacksfield didn’t know what was happening when the Hungarian Vizsla became sick thirty-six hours later. She took Ruby to a vet but the dog’s health worsened over the week until she passed away. While working through her grief, Chacksfield publicized this story so other owners could keep the sugar substitute away from their canines.
Dog is “violently ill” after two xylitol brownies
Xylitol in dogs can lead to low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, and death. This is what unfortunately happened to Ruby, after being sick for eight days and after almost $13,000 in medical bills. “I had no idea how serious eating natural sweeteners was for dogs, the photos of her on life support still make me cry,” said Chacksfield, 51. 
Because she wasn’t aware of the danger, she didn’t take Ruby to the vet as soon as she’d eaten the brownies. Chocolate is also toxic for dogs, but Ruby had snuck regular brownies with sugar in the past with no negative effects. She said her vet claimed that small amounts of chocolate won’t hurt a large dog. “I only made brownies with Xylitol in to reduce the amount of sugar I was eating,” the owner said.
In hindsight, she wished she’d taken Ruby to the vet immediately after she saw what had happened. The owner was out when Ruby knocked the container off the counter and ate a couple brownies. The dog seemed fine for a couple days until she suddenly became “violently ill.” Chacksfield took Ruby to the vet, who checked her over and sent her back home.
But when Ruby collapsed, Chacksfield rushed her back and the vets began treating her for rat poison because of her exhibited symptoms. “We just thought she may have eaten some by mistake in the park or something — it never crossed my mind to mention the brownies, ” she said. Ruby was transferred to the The Royal Veterinary College in London (where Chacksfield had adopted her as a puppy), where she soon passed away.
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“I had absolutely no idea…”
After the dog died, a vet asked if Ruby could have eaten xylitol, which is when Chacksfield connected the illness to the brownies. “I had absolutely no idea xylitol was harmful to dogs whatsoever and I was heartbroken when they told me and I knew it was too late for Ruby.” To make something good out of this tragedy, Chacksfield hopes to spread awareness about xylitol toxicity in dogs so no canine could have to suffer the same way Ruby did. “I really, really urge other dog owners to read up on the dangers of xylitol in dogs and urgently take their pets to the vet if they accidentally consume it as it could be the difference between life and death.” 
Xylitol can be found in many sugar-free products like gum, peanut butter, candies, ice cream, chocolate, and other desserts. It also may appear in cough syrup, mouthwash, toothpaste, dietary supplements, chewable vitamins, medicines, and some kinds of beauty products. It’s not always clearly labeled, so look out for “birch sugar” or “artificial sweetener”. Also, be wary of products labeled “sugar free,” “diabetic friendly,” “no sugar added” and the like. Keep these items securely out of pets’ reach.  Other sugar substitutes like erythritol, stevia, sucralose, and monk fruits are overall safe for dogs but can cause gastrointestinal issues if eaten in large amounts. (Of course, it’s healthier for dogs to avoid eating sweets and artificial sweeteners altogether.) 
In dogs, xylitol can cause the pancreas to release a large amount of insulin, which can rapidly and dangerously lower blood sugar levels, also known as hypoglycemia. The substance can also cause liver damage or liver failure. However, xylitol doesn’t affect the pancreas or insulin release in humans, making it safe to eat for us.
Signs of Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs
One of the most common scenarios of xylitol poisoning comes when a dog rummages through purses and eats sugar-free gum. One piece of gum is enough to cause hypoglycemia in a 20-pound dog, and two or four pieces can cause liver damage and failure.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs are typically related to signs of hypoglycemia. These can include: lethargy, tremors/seizures, stumbling and lack of coordination, weakness, vomiting, collapses, or comas. They can begin half an hour after consuming xylitol or even 12 to 24 hours later. But if your dog has ingested xylitol or is exhibiting these symptoms, immediately contact the local veterinary emergency hospital. 
“We did everything we could to save Ruby,” Chacksfield said. “She was so loved and we all miss her dearly. We really had hope she would pull through so we were heartbroken when she didn’t… It takes just a quarter of a teaspoon of sweetener to harm a dog. If anyone has any concerns they can contact the Animal Poison Line for advice [in the UK].” You can also contact Animal Poison Control or Pet Poison Helpline in an emergency or for questions about certain products. They can help evaluate the situation and guide your next steps.
- “Dog Owners Need to Watch Out For Xylitol: Dog Dies After Eating Brownies With Sugar Substitute.” People. Kelli Bender. February 6, 2019
- “Dog dies after eating brownies that contained sweetener.” Metro. Tanveer Mann February 6, 2019
- “Paws Off Xylitol; It’s Dangerous for Dogs.” FDA. July 7, 2021
- “Artificial Sweeteners: Which Ones Are Safe For Dogs?” American Kennel Club. Dr. Jerry Klein September 25, 2019
- “Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs.” PetMD. Veronica Higgs, DVM. August 9, 2022