If you're like many people, you might want to give your dog some peanut butter as an occasional treat. Or you might want to use peanut butter as a trick or reward to get your dog to take their medications? In many cases this is perfectly fine (so long as it's not in excess — as too much can cause pancreatitis and/or contribute to obesity).
However, with the introduction of a unique line of peanut and other nut butters onto the market — Nuts ’N More® — the answer to the question of whether or not it’s safe to give, even a small quantity of, peanut butter to your dogs is no longer a straightforward one. Why? Because of the sweetener that’s been used to replace the sugar in this line of peanut and other nut butters. That sugar substitute is called xylitol.
Update (August 6, 2015): The list of peanut and nut butters containing xylitol that we have uncovered has now grown to FIVE! We have reached out to all of them to discuss this dog hazard and to secure increased awareness on their product packaging and websites. We will continue to keep you updated with progress. Here are the five companies (in alphabetical order): (1) Go Nuts, Co., (2) Hank's Protein Plus Peanut Butter, (3) Krush Nutrition, (4) Nuts 'N More, and (5) P28. While these are "specialty butters" that are mostly sold in nutrition stores and online (currently), the subtle presence of xylitol in these butters definitely highlights the importance of reading ingredient labels on products you bring into your home, and especially doing so prior to sharing anything with your pets and if your pets ever get into anything they shouldn't have. Please don't assume that things which are safe for you are also safe for your pets. As you'll see below, this can be a very dangerous assumption with xylitol!
Is Xylitol Safe For Dogs?Xylitol is a sweetener that's gaining in popularity because of its dental benefits for people as well as its suitability as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes. Because of its ability to help prevent cavities and tooth decay and its low glycemic index, xylitol is proving to have some good dental and other health benefits for people. Unfortunately, while xylitol appears to be perfectly safe for people, it is extremely dangerous for dogs — even in small quantities.
- Ingestion of as little as 0.1 gram (g) of xylitol per kilogram (kg) of body weight (0.1 g/kg) can cause a rapid and dangerous drop in a dog’s blood sugar (a condition called “hypoglycemia”). Hypoglycemia can show as staggering, appearing disoriented, collapse, weakness, and seizures.
- Just slightly more than that, approx. 0.5 g/kg xylitol ingestion, can lead to debilitating, and sadly often deadly, destruction of a dog’s liver cells.
These quantities, or toxic doses, are based on the data that the animal-specific poison control hotlines have collected from reported cases*. To highlight that these are reported cases is important, because not every case of toxicity makes it to the vet, and not everyone that does go to the vet is called into the animal poison control hotlines. So the actual toxic doses could be even lower, and dogs with certain pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, hepatitis, and others) are likely to be even more sensitive to the toxic effects of xylitol.
*Sources: New Findings On The Effects Of Xylitol Ingestion In Dogs from ASPCA-APCC 2006; Acute Hepatic Failure And Coagulopathy Associated With Xylitol Ingestion In Eight Dogs from ASPCA-APCC 2006, published in JAVMA (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006; 229:1113-1117)
Make Sure To Read Ingredient Labels
The gaining popularity of xylitol as an ingredient in a growing number of products (incl. gums, mints, chewable vitamins, ice creams, common supplements, and many others - see this list of over 700 products that contain xylitol!) highlights the importance of reading ingredient labels, as well as the danger of assuming that what's safe for you, or even your kids, is also safe for your pets.
Update (Aug 9, 2015): We have been in discussions with Nuts ’N More and they have agreed to take some good initial steps to improve awareness of the hazard that xylitol poses to dogs. They have now added a new warning about the dangers of xylitol to dogs in the "What Is Xylitol?" section of their FAQ page (though note that there truly is no “may” about it, xylitol IS dangerous to dogs). The even bigger news is that they have agreed to add a “not for pets” warning on all of their xylitol-containing product labels, and they have also agreed to disclose the amount of sugar alcohol per serving on the new labels! This is great awareness and will help tremendously, both to keep these products out of the mouths of dogs and also to aid in the treatment of those dogs who do get access. We have been assured that the new labels should start showing up on store shelves and their website in the next couple of months. Your concern, messages, and sharing helped to make this happen — thank you! We will continue to keep you updated on any further progress with Nuts ’N More, as well as the other companies we are in contact with. In the mean time, you can help to further the effort to encourage all manufacturers to provide this important information and awareness by signing and sharing our two petitions.
Please learn more about the danger xylitol poses to dogs and the range of products xylitol is commonly found in. And since awareness is truly crucial to helping people avoid xylitol toxicity in dogs, please share what you’ve learned here with your dog-owning and dog-loving friends and family.
If you think your dog has eaten xylitol...Please contact a pet poison control hotline right away and they'll be able to guide you as to what to do next. After your dog is under the proper veterinary supervision and care, here's where you report the incident.
Homemade Nut Butter RecipeIf you want to make a great homemade nut butter here's a recipe from our friends at Show Me The Yummy. The recipe includes notes to make it dog-friendlier by cutting down on or eliminating ingredients like salt and sugar. Teddy, the photogenetic dog in our article, is their nut butter taste tester. Enjoy!!