Is Xylitol Toxic to Cats?

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: July 19, 2018

Updated: June 25, 2021

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cat lying on rug with piercing yellow eyesWhile many more people are (thankfully) now aware of the dangers that xylitol poses to dogs, people often wonder if xylitol — an increasingly common sugar substitute — can have the same devastating effects should their cats ever get a hold of something with xylitol in it. It’s a great and important question… and one that it looks like we finally have an answer to!

It was previously assumed that xylitol wasn’t toxic to cats

Since neither of the two major animal-specific poison control hotlines had ever received or reported any cases of a cat experiencing any problems following ingestion of xylitol it was previously assumed that xylitol was not a toxicity threat to cats. But we didn't know for sure, because the lack of reported cases could have been due to a few possible reasons:
baked goods with xylitol
(1) 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 weren't getting into stuff with xylitol in it?

(2) Maybe cats did get into and suffer toxic effects of xylitol, but nobody called to report it to the poison control hotlines? (This, of course, would be highly unlikely, as cats are awesome and people love them!)

(3) Maybe xylitol just isn’t toxic to cats the same way it is to dogs.

New research sheds new light on xylitol toxicity in cats

Well, thanks to this June 2018 study out of Hungary and published in the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, we now know that the answer is almost certainly* #3 above... that xylitol isn't toxic to cats! Or, at least, it doesn’t appear to 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).

*I say “almost certainly” 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, that it would also have that effect in all cats and not just a subset. 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.

black cat xylitol toxicity

So... some very good news for cat lovers everywhere — but don't forget about these hazards

Now, of course, this does not mean that you should rush out and get sugar-free gum, or any of the other 700+ common household products that contain xylitol and feed them to your cat! But it does mean that you can breathe a little easier knowing that there’s one less thing out there that could severely poison, injure, or even kill your cat if they were to come into contact with it or eat it. (As a cat lover, you already have enough to be aware of and worry about with lilies, pyrethrins, acetaminophen, people foods, and more!)

Dogs and dog lovers could still use your help though!

While all of us cat-lovers can breathe easier knowing that xylitol isn’t going to sicken or kill our cats, all of us dog-lovers still have to worry (a lot!!) about the severe dangers that xylitol poses to dogs, as well as the increasing usage of xylitol in a wide variety of products that are common in homes. Do you also have a dog, or know someone who does? Or do you just love dogs and not want to see them suffer? Here are a few simple and quick things you can do to help prevent more dogs from suffering the dangerous and heartbreaking effects of accidental xylitol ingestion:

  • Download our free xylitol awareness poster. Print out copies and bring them to your veterinarian, groomer, local dog parks, pet stores, and any other local businesses that will hang them for you.
  • Sign and share our Xylitol Label Improvement Petitions. We’re working to improve labeling on products that contain xylitol, and we’re making progress… but there’s still (LOTS) more to be done. The more people who sign and share the petitions, the more change we can bring about, and the faster we can do so. There’s one petition for manufacturers, and one for the FDA.


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