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It is possible, depending on the type of peanut butter. There have been some articles making the rounds on social media warning that peanut butter may kill dogs. This has been prompted by some new formulations of peanut butter containing an artificial sweetener, xylitol.
Currently, very few companies are manufacturing peanut butter containing this sweetener, but this may increase over time so it is important to be aware of the danger. Xylitol toxicity is a danger for dogs but they are at much greater risk of ingesting xylitol from sugar-free chewing gum than from peanut butter.
Many people wonder why xylitol is safe for humans but toxic to dogs. The most common cause of illness is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. In dogs, the pancreas confuses xylitol with real sugar and releases insulin to store the sugar but xylitol does not offer the extra calories of real sugar. The result of the insulin release is a plummeting blood sugar, which causes weakness, disorientation, tremors, and potentially seizures. These signs can show up anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion. The second and more serious result of xylitol ingestion is hepatic necrosis, which is the destruction of liver tissue. It is not known how this happens but we do know that it takes much higher doses of xylitol to cause hepatic necrosis than it does to cause hypoglycemia. In some cases the liver damage is temporary, in others the condition can lead to death.
The amount of xylitol in a stick of gum can vary widely, but on average, a 10 pound dog can experience low blood sugar from as little as 1½ sticks of sugar-free gum. It would take a much higher dose to be at risk for hepatic necrosis. If your dog ingests xylitol in any form you should call your veterinarian or the National Animal Poison Control Center (888-4264435) to determine if treatment is required. If you seek medical attention within 30 minutes of ingestion, your veterinarian can induce vomiting to decrease the chance of toxicity. If it has been longer your dog may require hospitalization and blood work to monitor for low blood sugar and liver damage. It is unknown if cats are affected by xylitol like dogs. If your cat ingests any xylitol containing products, you should contact your veterinarian to see if treatment is recommended.