Cats are amazing and mysterious beings. One of their mysteries is if xylitol does or doesn’t have devastating effects on them.
Thankfully, many more people are aware of the dangers that xylitol poses to dogs, but knowing its impact on cats is still not fully known.
It was previously assumed that xylitol wasn’t toxic to cats
In general, when you see information about xylitol toxicity, especially with regards to the two major animal-specific poison control hotlines, they generally discuss the toxic effects on dogs. Since they have not received or reported any cases of a cat experiencing any serious problems, only sensitivities (but no published data), following ingestion of xylitol, it is assumed that xylitol is not a toxicity threat to cats.
But we don’t honestly know for sure because the lack of reported cases could be due to a few possible reasons:
- Cats are more, shall we say, “discerning” than dogs when it comes to what they’ll get into and gobble up when nobody is looking. So maybe they just aren't getting into stuff with xylitol in it?
- Perhaps, in order for cats to suffer significant toxic effects, they need to consume more of a product containing xylitol?
- Maybe cats did get into and suffer toxic effects of xylitol, but nobody called to report it to the poison control hotlines because they were treated and managed well by their veterinarian?
- Perhaps, they became sick, and the cause was unknown. They are stealthy ninjas that may have consumed an item, and no one knew it. Or xylitol wasn’t listed as xylitol but rather as a ‘sugar alcohol’ or something else. (See below for a full list of names).
- Maybe xylitol just isn’t toxic to cats the same way it is to dogs.
Research and Veterinary Front Lines
In a June 2018 study out of Hungary, published in the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, it appears it doesn’t have the same blood sugar-lowering toxic effect in cats as it does in dogs — we can’t be as definitive about the liver cell-damaging toxic effect (see note about why below).
- The term "it appears" is highlighted because, while it was a (very) well-designed and carried out study, it was a small study — of just 6 cats. So, it’s still possible that xylitol could be toxic to a subset of cats (e.g., same breed, age, etc.). But since the blood sugar-lowering effect in dogs affects all dogs and not just a subset, it's most likely that if xylitol did drop blood sugar in cats, it would also have that effect in all cats and not just a subset. Additionally, there were mild yet significant alterations when the dose of 1000mg/kg was administered. These changes were within the physiological range, but we must remember that "normal" isn’t always "normal" for every cat.
- As for the liver cell-damaging toxicity potential of xylitol in cats, since this appears to be an idiosyncratic or patient-specific factor effect in dogs, it's still possible that it could also be a patient-specific factor effect in cats. So while it certainly appears that xylitol doesn't cause hepatic necrosis in cats, with a sample size of just 6 cats in the study, we can't say that as definitively.
However, it seems that veterinary hospitals warn very strongly about the toxic effects of xylitol to cats. In an interview in 2012, Dr. Dana Brooks, an internist at Seattle Veterinary Specialists in Kirkland, stated they had an increase in dogs and cats being treated for xylitol ingestion at their emergency clinic.
With all the awareness, the tools to treat, and the possibility that the toxic effects are not as profound, that must be why more reports are not being made about cats and xylitol toxicity.
The long and the short of it is, in my opinion, to err on the side of caution and always contact your veterinarian or an emergency hospital if you suspect your cat consumed anything with xylitol. Remember, there may be other toxic ingredients besides xylitol.
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