Many dog owners know that the natural sweetener xylitol isn't safe for their pets. Found in many types of sugarless gum, xylitol is also in other household products like mints, peanut butter and toothpaste. Although the dangers of xylitol have been known for some time, the Food and Drug Administration has released a stronger warning to pet owners, urging them to keep the sweetener away from their dogs.

When dogs eat something that contains xylitol, the sweetener can cause their bodies to rapidly release a rush of insulin, which doesn't happen in people. This causes a dog's blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels within minutes. Untreated, the condition can be life-threatening.

An earlier FDA warning in 2011 cautioned about potential illnesses in dogs and ferrets that consumed xylitol. The newest warning comes amid a serious uptick in the number of dogs accidentally poisoned by the sweetener. The Pet Poison Hotline received 2,900 xylitol-poisoning calls in 2015, up from only 300 in 2009, and they've been receiving even more in 2016, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The FDA urges dog owners to read product labels and keep items that contain xlyitol out of pets' reach. In addition to gum, mints and toothpaste, xylitol can also be found in some:

  • baked goods
  • cough syrup
  • children’s and adult chewable vitamins
  • mouthwash
  • nut butters

The FDA notes that the toxicity of xylitol for cats has not yet been documented. According to the report, "They appear to be spared, at least in part, by their disdain for sweets."

The problem with peanut butter

Peanut butter is generally safe for dogs to eat, but there are some new brands on the market that dog owners need to be aware of because they contain xylitol. According to a report by Preventive Vet, there are several nut butter spreads with xylitol.

Xylitol is gaining in popularity, and it may end up in other brands of peanut butter as food companies look for natural sweeteners as a substitute for refined sugar. If you have a peanut butter-loving dog, check the peanut butter you buy for your furry family member to make sure it isn’t sweetened with xylitol. If it is, keep it for the human members of your family only.

This story originally published in June 2015 and has been updated with new information.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.