Sweetener in some sugarless gums can kill dogs

An alarm is being raised tonight about a potential danger to your pet -- a sweetener used in some sugarless gum and other products could kill a dog.

Sam Caress and Jordan Pellett recently adopted Gunner. He's helped fill the hole in their hearts created when Luna, their two-year-old dog, died in April after getting into some chewing gum made with the sugar-substitute Xylitol.

She started vomiting, they rushed her to the vet -- but it was too late.

"They gave us a phone call saying her kidney tests weren't good, and that they were shutting down, and that we didn't really have any other choice but to put her down," said Sam Caress.

Xylitol is safe for humans but can cause severe low blood sugar, seizures -- even liver failure -- in dogs.

Sugar-free gum is the biggest culprit. But Xylitol is also used in some sugar-free candies, chewable vitamins, even some baked goods and peanut butter.

The number of products is on the rise and so are the calls to the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, from 82 in 2004 to more than 3,700 last year.

Some animal welfare groups are calling for warning labels on products with Xylitol.

Dr. Ashley Gallagher with the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington D.C. says the key is vigilance on the part of dog owners.

"You just have to be really careful because dogs are nosy little creatures and they are hungry all the time. I know my dogs are, and they are just looking for a treat. So you have to really watch them," Gallagher said.

Sam and Jordan go one step further, "With a lot of things like candy and gum and peanut butter -- we check all of them -- and if they have xylitol in them, we don't buy them."

Dr. Gallagher says dog owners should go through their kitchen and check the labels of all products that say "sugar-free." Anything that contains xylitol should be put up the top cabinets -- way out of reach of pets.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.