(WSVN) - It’s a product you might keep in your pocket, but you may have no idea it can be lethal to your cherished four-legged friend. Kevin Ozebek has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Kevin Ozebek: “Awww, look at that face, look at that smile.”

Kendra Bulluck-Major, Champ’s owner: “Good boy!”

This precious pup is 7-year-old Champ. He is full of energy now, but last March, he almost died.

Champ got seriously ill after eating a whole pack of sugar free chewing gum containing the ingredient Xylitol.

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “I had no idea what Xylitol was.”

It’s a popular artificial sweetener common in sugar free products.

Xylitol is safe for humans but deadly for dogs. It can trigger seizures and liver failure.

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “I came upstairs. I saw him with the gum. We took it away from him.”

But hours later, Champ was in bad shape.

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “Immediately I called the vet, and I said, you know, ‘He’s been vomiting, and he won’t drink anything, and he’s very lethargic.'”

Kendra rushed him to VCA Animal Hospital in Hollywood.

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “The vet says he’s in the stages of liver failure. ‘Your dog is very sick.'”

For the next 11 days, Champ fought for his life.

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “It was 11 days of plasma treatment, 11 days of supplements and us literally just visiting him every day.”

Nationwide, the Animal Poison Control Center says cases involving Xylitol are growing. Emergency calls went from 5,622 cases in 2017 to more than 7,800 cases in 2020.

Dr. Luis Pizarro, veterinarian, VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital: “Good girl, mama.”

Vets here in South Florida are also seeing more dogs being poisoned by Xylitol.

Dr. Luis Pizarro: “It has been more common lately because they have more chances to be getting around the Xylitol or the Xylitol-containing products. Like, something simple that you would never think of having something like this, they’re readily more available.”

How common is Xylitol? Well, it is probably in your pantry or medicine cabinet right now.

Besides gum, the artificial sweetener can be found in ketchup, peanut butter, baked goods and even toothpaste.

Dr. Luis Pizarro: “In humans, it doesn’t cause any issues. If you consume too much, you maybe get a little bit bloated, a little bit of [gastrointestinal] issues, but not in dogs. In dogs, it triggers a whole cascade of really bad events.”

To add to the confusion, finding Xylitol on product labels can be tricky. That’s because it also goes by other names, like birch bark extract, birch sugar and wood sugar.

Dr. Luis Pizarro: “It’s just one of the things that we have to be aware of. You know, it’s like anything else, like the chocolate or any other toxicities. You just need to be aware of what’s going on.”

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “Where’s your ball?”

Luckily for Champ, he pulled through without lasting effects, but 11 days in the hospital took its toll on Kendra’s pocketbook.

Kendra Bulluck-Major: “It was almost $12,000, and some people would say, ‘Do you know how many Shih Tzus you could buy with $12,000?’ But there’s only one Champ.”

And now he has a second chance at life.

In case you’re wondering, cats are not affected by Xylitol.

ASPCA Xylitol safety warning


Copyright 2021 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox