This long circulated message relates the story of a dachshund named Chloe who became severely ill after eating sugar-free gum that contained xylitol sweetener.
The claim that xylitol can be toxic to dogs is certainly true.
An October 2006 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Press Release confirms that xylitol can be highly dangerous for dogs:
While veterinarians have suspected that the sugar substitute xylitol can make dogs sick, there is now further clinical evidence of an association between the product and possible liver failure in dogs. A clinical report appearing in the Oct. 1 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) discusses the sometimes fatal conditions developed by dogs that have ingested xylitol. Xylitol, a sweetener found in many sugar-free chewing gums, candies, baked goods and toothpastes, is a naturally occurring ingredient that may have far-reaching negative health effects on dogs.
“Not all things that are natural are safe,” said veterinary toxicologist Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, who along with veterinarian Eric K. Dunayer co-authored the report. “There are plenty of things in the environment that are toxic to pets.”
While not all pets become ill after eating xylitol, Dr. Gwaltney-Brant said the public—and especially dog owners—needs to be aware of the potential dangers. She added that pet owners should make sure that products containing xylitol are kept away from dogs. If an owner suspects that their dog has eaten products containing xylitol, they should contact their veterinarian immediately.
“The potential for severe illness is very high,” she said. “People don’t think sugar-free gum can kill their dog. I didn’t before I got into this. But this is something people should be aware of.”
The press release notes that a dog should be taken for treatment even if a relatively small amount of food containing xylitol is consumed. As little as three or four pieces of sugar-free gum could potentially cause illness. Apparently, not every dog will get sick after consuming xylitol. Why some dogs get sick and others do not is still unclear.
Moreover, there is as yet no reliable data available on how xylitol affects other domestic animals such as cats. Pet owners should ensure that products containing xylitol are kept well out of reach of their animals and that other family members and visitors are aware of the potential danger.
At this point, I cannot say for sure if the story describes an actual event or if Chloe is a real dog. Authors of warning messages like this sometimes create a cover story to drive home the core points in their message and add a human (or canine) element.