Before you give the dog peanut butter, check the label, local vet says

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Most dogs love peanut butter, but before you give your pet a dollop, check the label for an ingredient that experts say could be deadly to canines.

(Photo by Montana Brazil)

The issue is not the peanut butter itself, but what might have been added to it, veterinarian Dr. Britt Clay of the Coryell Vet Clinic in Gatesville says.

"We have pet clients that take medications that their owners hide inside globs of peanut butter," Clay said. "Especially medications for thyroid or heart problems that have to be taken once, maybe twice every day and peanut butter is an excellent way to get those pills down them."

Natural peanut butter isn't as problem, but any peanut butter, or other nut butter, that contains Xylitol, an alcohol sugar sweetener, can be lethal to canines, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Xylitol seems not to be an issue for cats because felines don't have a sweet tooth, anyway, and tend not to eat sweet-tasting things.

Food experts say when peanut butter manufacturers do things like reduce fats and sugars, they have to add things like Xylitol to replace what they took out.

In fact, so serious is the problem that FDA issued a national warning on Oct. 25, making dog owners aware of the Xylitol issue, not only found in peanut butters, but also in sugar-free chewing gums, breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, children's and adult chewable vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste, over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements and sugar-free desserts.

"Like many dog owners, you know chocolate can be dangerous to your pooch. But you may not know that if the pup sticks his nose in your handbag and eats a pack of sugarless chewing gum, the consequences could be deadly,” the FDA report says.

And peanut butter isn't the only thing to worry about.

The article goes on to say sugarless gum can contain Xylitol and that can have devastating effects on your pet.

Slightly lower in calories than sugar, this sugar substitute is also often used to sweeten sugar-free candy, such as mints and chocolate bars, as well as sugar-free chewing gum, the kind of foods people who are sensitive to high blood sugar eat.

The amount of sugar in the blood, whether human or canine, is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas.

Xylitol is beneficial to humans, especially diabetics, because it does not stimulate the release of insulin.

But in dogs the effect basically is opposite: "When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas," the FDA warning explains, and it can happen quickly.

"This rapid release of insulin may result in a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (a condition referred to as hypoglycemia), an effect that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the xylitol."

"Untreated, this hypoglycemia can quickly be life-threatening," the FDA warns.

Clay said the insulin interacts with the walls of cells in the body and makes them permeable to absorption of sugars that provide energy those cells need to work, and when the cells absorb huge amounts of insulin, it can lead to insulin shock and death.

"If they adsorb a lot of xylitol with the peanut butter they will start producing a lot of insulin and that insulin works immediately and starts removing glucose from the blood stream," said Clay. "The dogs, potentially, theoretically, can suffer hypoglycemia within just minutes."

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, followed by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog's blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, loss of coordination, collapse and seizures.

Immediate veterinary care is necessary.

Because hypoglycemia and other serious adverse effects may not occur in some cases for up to 12 to 24 hours, your dog may need to be monitored," the FDA report says.

The bottom line is to check the label if your pup enjoys peanut butter to make sure it’s the right kind.

"In today's society we're always assuming what's good for people is good for our pets," said Clay.

"If we buy them low-fat, low-sugar peanut butter thinking we're doing them a health benefit, we're actually causing a potentially serious life threatening problem."