Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Not all artificial sweeteners are bad for dogs but some may cause digestive upset if consumed in large amounts and one type of sweetener may even turn out being deadly if ingested.
With more people concerned about the negative effects of table sugar, there are more and more products nowadays that incorporate artificial sweeteners among their ingredients.
It's not unusual nowadays for artificial sweeteners to be found in the most inconspicuous of places. It is therefore important that pet parents look at the ingredients of several food and non-food items any time their dogs are found stealing from the trash can or from purses left unattended.
What exactly are artificial sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners are simply sugar substitutes, basically food additives that are meant to provide a sweet taste that mimics sugar but without the worry of excess calories. These sweeteners may be produced naturally or, in the case of artificial sweeteners,synthetically.
Following is some information about different types of artificial sweeteners/sugar substitutes often used in many food and non-food items along with the negative effects they may have on dogs.
Of course, on top of exposure to sweeteners, you will have to factor in the impact ingesting foods your dog is not used to eating may have on his digestive system and the toxic effects of harmful ingredients such as chocolate.
Is Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) Bad for Dogs?
Aspartame is a sweetener that has grown in popularity. Brand names of aspartame include Nutrasweet®, Equal®, and Sugar Twin®. While this sweetener contains calories, it's appealing to consumers because according to the Food and Drug Administration. aspartame is 200 times sweeter than table sugar which means that smaller amounts can be used.
Aspartame is nowadays used in a variety of foods such as coffees, teas, carbonated beverages, puddings and dairy products. It is not used much in baked goods because aspartame tends to lose its sweetness when exposed to heat.
While aspartame is not really toxic to dogs, it has the potential to cause an upset stomach in dogs, explains veterinarian Dr. Marie Haynes.
According to the ASPCA, because of the potential for causing mild gastrointestinal upset when eaten in significant quantities, it's a good idea for dog owners to therefore refrain from offering dogs foods containing such sweetener.
Is Stevia (Truvia) Bad For Dogs?
Stevia is produced by the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni), a plant native to South America. As with aspartame, stevia is a cherished sweetener because it's reported to be about 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar meaning that smaller quantities can be used. Brand names of stevia include Truvia®, PureVia®
Dogs are often reported to ingest stevia sugar packets or products containing stevia such as teas, candies, chewing gum, soft drinks, yogurt and soy sauce.
What happens if a dog happens to ingest stevia? In scholarly studies, stevia has not been found to be toxic to dogs, however, an osmotic effects may be seen following the ingestion of excessive amounts of this artificial sweetener.
The osmotic effect may lead to diarrhea and this is due to the nature of the molecules of stevia which have a tendency to draw water from the body into the lumen of the colon (osmosis). As a result, dogs develop loose stools which is referred to as osmotic diarrhea, explains veterinarian Dr. Edwards.
Is Sucralose (Splenda) Bad for Dogs ?
Sucralose is a sweetener that is sold under the brand name Splenda®. As several other sweeteners, Splenda is appealing to consumers because a little goes a long way considering that it's 600 times sweeter than table sugar.
Sucralose is found in many foods such as several beverages, gelatins and frozen dairy-based desserts. Unlike aspartame, sucralose remains stable and retains its sweetness when baked, hence its popularity in baked goods.
As with the other artificial sweeteners discussed above, sucralose has not been found to cause toxicity in dogs; however, excess consumption can potentially cause irritation to the intestine leading to gastrointestinal upset.
Is Saccharin, Sweet and Low, Bad for Dogs?
Saccharin is a sweetener that is sold under the brand name Sweet and Low®, Sweet Twin®, Sweet'N Low®, and Necta Sweet®. This sweetener is also very effective in providing sweetness to foods considering that it's 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar.
Currently, saccharin is often found in juices, various beverages, powdered drink mixes labeled for use in "diets," light salad dressing, canned fruit canned in "light" syrup, low-calorie jams or jellies and flavored syrups for ice cream,
Saccharin is also not toxic to dogs, but some dogs will experience some digestive upset from the Sweet N Low.
Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose, are generally regarded as safe and should not cause significant illness if large amounts are ingested
— Eric K. Dunayer, MS, VMD, DABT, DABVT
Xylitol, The Most Dangerous Sugar Substitute
Among all the artificial sweeteners that can pose harm to dogs, xylitol is the worst. Xylitol is actually, not really an artificial sweetener, it's a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. It is highly toxic to dogs and can cause a variety of health problems and even death if ingested in certain amounts.
A main problem is the ubiquity of xylitol nowadays. With more and more products containing xylitol, the risks are no longer limited to chewing gum, throat lozenges, candy, sugar-free pudding snacks and breath mints. Xylitol nowadays can be found in several brands of peanut butter, protein bars and weight loss products.Even supplements, vitamins, smoking cessation gums and over-the-counter or prescription medications may contain xylitol.
Xylitol is also found in non-food items such as toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, mouth rinses, deodorants, lotions and facial creams and gels. In nature, xylitol can be found naturally in small amounts in several edible plants such as raspberries, lettuce, and mushrooms.
According to the Pet Poison Helpline, dogs may develop xylitol toxicosis at doses as low as 0.1g/kg body weight. At such doses, dogs become prone to the negative effects of hypoglycemia, that is, low blood glucose. At doses of of 0.5g/kg and above, acute liver failure occurs. Symptoms may be seen as early as 10 to 15 minutes in small dogs.
Symptoms associated with xylitol toxicity in dogs include lethargy, weakness, shaking, vomiting, black, tarry stools, jaundice (yellowing of skin/mucus membranes), seizures, collapse, coma and death.
Treatment for xylitol toxicity includes inducing vomiting (if the ingestion was very recent considering how fast xylitol is absorbed and the dog is still active and alert and capable of swallowing) close monitoring of the dog's glucose levels/ liver enzymes, administration of IV fluids and dextrose in the case the affected dogs has developed low glucose levels.
Liver protectants may be given in the case there is potential for liver damage. Dogs should be monitored by the vet for 12 hours or days depending on the dog's condition and whether the dog has become hypoglycemic.
If you suspect your dog has ingested a food or non-food item containing xylitol, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately for guidance on what to do. The Pet Poison Helpline has a large database with specific xylitol content for many products. The Pet Poison Helpline phone number is 855-764-7661 and $59 fee applies per consultation.
Most chewing gums and breath mints typically contain 0.22 to 1.0 gram of xylitol per piece of gum or per mint. Therefore only one piece of gum may result in hypoglycemia in a 10-pound (4.5-kg) dog.
— Pet Poison Helpline
- Dunayer, Eric K. (2004). "Hypoglycemia following canine ingestion of xylitol-containing gum". Veterinary and Human Toxicology. 46 (2): 87–88
- New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs, by Eric K. Dunayer, MS, VMD, DABT, DABVT
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 10, 2018:
Artificial sweeteners are added to so many foods nowadays. Xylitol is very scary, it takes little amounts to cause devastating effects in dogs.
Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 07, 2018:
A great article and one that is important for all dog owners to know. I never really gave it much thought until now. However, I will keep on top of it. Thank you for the information, Adrienne.