New statistics show that The Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) received 102 enquiries about the artificial sweetener xylitol in 2014.
Around 35 per cent of these cases involved chewing gum including sugar free gum. Others involve medicines including nicotine gums and throat lozenges also containing xylitol.
Xylitol is used as a sweetener and is also known as E967 – it is also commonly used in baking. With more food and sweet treats in the home over the festive period the RSPCA is warning owners to keep hazardous food away from their pets.
RSPCA Behaviour and Welfare expert Alice Potter said: “Sometimes owners may be harming their pets without realising.
“You might think saving a bite of cake for your dog is harmless but actually you could be feeding them something toxic.
“What is ok for you to eat may not be ok for your dog or cat. This is especially important over the festive season when there is more food and sweet treats in the house than usual – we would urge people to think about what they are giving their pets to eat.
“Some of the more common foods like onions or chocolate many pet owners are aware of but 100 calls a year is too many so we need to raise awareness about the dangers of this artificial sweetener.
“It really is a secret poison – many people just aren’t aware of the dangers.
“Always check the ingredients of anything you feed your pet and if you think your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have then you should ring your vet straight away.”
Of the 291 calls to the VPIS over 3 years, there were 282 dogs (97%), 7 cats and 2 rabbits involved.
Forty cases were followed up which included one fatality.
A spokesperson for the VPIS said: “Xylitol is found in a wide variety of foodstuffs and medicines; it is also available as the chemical itself for use as a sugar substitute in baking.
“Xylitol can be extremely hazardous to dogs because it can cause a very rapid drop in blood sugar and later there is the risk of liver damage.
“Keep any xylitol-containing product out of sight and out of reach of dogs, this includes pain killers and chewing gum kept in handbags, products delivered through the letterbox and cakes and cookies baked with xylitol.
“If your pet has accidentally ingested xylitol contact your vet immediately.”