One day in May 2019, Pamela Conway came home to discover that her family’s two small dogs, Marvin and Murphy, had gotten into a plastic container of sugar-free chewing gum and had eaten about 24 pieces of it. Not thinking much of it, Pamela cleaned up the mess and left the house to go pick up her daughters. But while at her friend’s house, Pamela learned that the gum could actually be incredibly toxic for her dogs.
Many types of gums and candies, especially those listed as “sugar-free,” can contain the sugar substitute xylitol, an ingredient that can cause hypoglycemia in dogs and lead to other severe conditions such as liver damage and even death. “At this point, I didn’t know anything about xylitol,” Pamela says as she describes the day.
When Pamela and her daughters returned, they discovered that Marvin and Murphy were both vomiting. Pamela tells us that between the two dogs, they threw up about 17 times. So Pamela and her husband, now incredibly worried, began to determine next steps.
“That’s when I called our vet,” Pamela says. “They said, ‘you need to call the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC),’ and I hadn’t heard of that, but I called the number they gave me and it was nice to hear a calm voice on the other end of the line.”
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s Lifesaving Intervention
As APCC veterinary technician Brianna talked Pamela through the situation, she first assessed how much of the gum the dogs had eaten and what kind of gum it was. Based on that information, coupled with Marvin and Murphy’s size, Brianna told Pamela that the dogs needed to seek treatment immediately. She assured Pamela that from there, APCC would help their local emergency veterinarian with any information they may need to begin treating Marvin and Murphy quickly.
“We got them to the vet within about 90 minutes, including our call to the Poison Control Center, and they started treating them immediately,” Pamela describes. “It was a pretty scary scenario, they were by that time pretty lethargic, not really standing on their own and looking just really weak.”
Once Pamela’s case was established, Dr. Jodi Carlson, an APCC veterinarian, spoke to the local emergency veterinarian about treatment recommendations and next steps for Marvin and Murphy. “I told the emergency veterinarian this was a massive dose of xylitol and that the dogs would require potentially extensive treatment,” says Dr. Carlson. “For those little dogs, one stick of gum would be enough for their blood sugar levels to drop.”
Due to the amount of gum Marvin and Murphy ingested, their situation was dire, and vets needed to act quickly. According to Dr. Carlson, with ingestions like these, a dog’s blood sugar can immediately drop, they can begin to have seizures and potentially become comatose. Getting rapid treatment for ingestions like these is incredibly important.
And luckily for Pamela and her family, APCC and their local veterinarians were ready to move as quick as possible.
Acting Quickly to Save Marvin and Murphy
Upon intake, it was discovered that both Marvin and Murphy had elevated liver enzymes—putting both dogs in critical danger. “When the liver is affected by xylitol, it stops producing clotting factors and the blood stops clotting,” Dr. Carlson explains, adding that plasma transfusions is one of the ways to replace the body’s clotting factors in these types of scenarios.
Murphy was in more serious condition than Marvin and required a plasma transfusion, but both dogs needed to be extensively monitored while the veterinary team worked to stabilize their blood sugar levels and lower their liver enzymes. After spending the weekend under supervision and being monitored, both Marvin and Murphy were able to go home in stable condition. It was a close call for the family, and everyone was relieved and overjoyed to have the duo back home, but they won’t soon forget the term “xylitol.”
“I was shocked. I’ve been a dog owner my whole life and I never heard about xylitol. We learned that xylitol is actually more dangerous than chocolate,” Pamela says. She also adds that the family is now extra cautious about ensuring that any toxic items are safely put away and out of paws’ reach.
Marvin and Murphy Get a Chance to Say Thanks!
Following Marvin and Murphy’s recovery, the Conway family were invited to visit APCC and meet Brianna and Dr. Carlson—two of the people who were instrumental in saving their pets’ lives.
“It was amazing to meet Dr. Carlson and Brianna,” says Pamela. “I felt so special for them to get to meet pets they helped saved—it was emotional. And to get to see behind the scenes how hard these people are working and what their role is nationwide and beyond was a great experience.”
Thanks to APCC, Pamela and her husband feel more informed and like they have a new resource when it comes to protecting their pets. Pamela has made sure to spread the word about xylitol on her social media accounts and was shocked to find out the number of products and ingredients you can find xylitol in. She thinks that more pet parents should be aware of just how dangerous this ingredient can be.
As for Marvin and Murphy, the pair are back to enjoying life with the Conways. They enjoy their days playing with the kids and showing off their sweet personalities—and life is just the way it should be.
If your dog gets into a product that you know has xylitol, or could potentially have xylitol in it, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 to determine how serious the exposure might be and what care might be required.