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Refined sugar is not always recommended for dogs. Allowing your dog to consume a lot of refined sugar can cause dental cavities, weight gain, and increased risks of a wide range of metabolic conditions like diabetes. Even worse, these health issues may lead to other serious conditions like heart complications, oral infection, and arthritis. But what about other low-calorie substitutes of refined sugar like sorbitol? Is this sweetener safe for your dog, and is there room for it in a healthy dog diet? We’ll find out shortly but before then, let’s cover a few basics.
What Is Sorbitol?
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) that’s often used as a sweetener in various foods such as frozen desserts, sugar-free sweets, baked goods, and chewing gums. Chemically, its structure is very similar to glucose but it has one extra hydrogen atom. It is about 60 percent as sweet as your typical table sugar but it has lower calories and lower glycemic index. While your regular table sugar contains 4 calories per gram, this sweetener provides about 2.6 calories per grams.
For starters, glycemic index is simply a measure of how much your dog’s blood sugar level will rise if he consumes a gram of a given carbohydrate. As a guide, glucose has a glycemic index value of 100—and all other carbohydrates are often measured as a proportion of this maximum. Sorbitol has a glycemic index of around 4-7—hopefully, now you understand what we mean when we say that the sweetener has a very low glycemic index.
Sorbitol occurs naturally in fruits like apples, plums, pears, as well as other plants like seaweed and corn. It is also a component of certain sugar-free sweets, gums, sugar-free baked goods, and several human medications, including laxatives and cough syrups.
Is Sorbitol Safe For Dogs?
The short answer is: Sorbitol is considered to be safe for dogs, especially in moderation. While some artificial sweeteners like xylitol are toxic to dogs, sorbitol isn’t one of them. If anything, the sweetener is often added to a wide range of dog foods and pet toothpaste.
Being sugar alcohol, sorbitol neither breaks in your pooch’s body to cause glucose spikes nor feed harmful bacteria in your dog’s digestive system. It is excreted through the urine in almost unprocessed form, causing little to no harm to your dog’s system.
Potential Side Effects
Although sorbitol is essentially safe for your dog, it can cause unpleasant side effects when consumed in large quantities, including:
1. Minor to moderate stomach upset
Sorbitol may cause minor to moderate gastrointestinal distress in dogs. In large quantities, the sweetener may cause symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and nausea. Most of these symptoms tend to overlap with symptoms of irritable bowel (IBS), so if you suspect that your dog is intolerant to sorbitol, ask your vet to help you check. In fact, people and dogs with IBS don’t absorb sorbitol properly.
2. Potential Laxative Effect
Besides the above gastrointestinal symptoms, sorbitol can cause diarrhea if consumed in large quantities. Generally, sorbitol is considered to have potent osmotic laxative properties, which implies that it is capable of drawing water into your dog’s intestine and keep your dog’s poop from drying out. And a stool with more water is often soft and easier to pass. If your dog is constipated, this can be good news. However, if your pup is prone to diarrhea or suffering from an underlying health condition that can cause diarrhea, consuming sorbitol can trigger or worsen runny stool and flatulence.
3. Pregnant and Nursing Dogs
In a past study carried on nursing rats, sorbitol was reported to have passed into their milk, and as a result, their offspring showed toxicity signs. In particular, the sorbitol-exposed offspring showed signs of liver and bone marrow damage and were also smaller than normal. While these effects haven’t be measured in breastfed puppies, you may want to be careful not to feed sorbitol (or too much of the sweetener) to your pregnant or nursing dog.
4. Can worsen IBS symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome is a serious disorder of the digestive system and its symptoms can interfere with a dog’s daily life. For instance, it causes chronic inflammation and discomfort of a dog’s bowel. Sorbitol is not well absorbed in the intestines of dogs with IBS, which implies that it can worsen the symptoms of the condition and even lead to flare-ups. If your dog is suffering from IBS, therefore, you should avoid feeding him foods that are high in sorbitol.
*Sugar-free candy and gums
*Apples, pears, peaches, figs, cherries, blackberries, plums, raisins, dates, and other dried fruits
*Sugar-free drinks and diet sodas
*Foods designed for diabetic dogs
If you are not sure, you can check the ingredients used to make the food you plan to give your dog. As aforementioned, the code E420 is often used to denote sorbitol in some countries.
Sorbitol vs. Xylitol
Most dog owners often confuse sorbitol with xylitol and tend to get worried whenever any of the sweeteners are mentioned. So, what’s the difference between the two, especially regarding their safety with dogs?
Well, both compounds are sugar alcohols and are produced through a chemical reaction that adds an extra hydrogen atom to glucose (in the case of sorbitol) or xylose (in the case of xylitol). Their chemical structures are also similar though sorbitol has a 6-carbon chain while xylitol has 5. The two sweeteners are also low in calories and don’t cause as much cavities as your regular sugar.
However, while sorbitol is safe for your dog, xylitol is not. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. It is known to cause liver damage, a serious drop in blood sugar, and even death if it is not treated. So, if you stock low-calorie foods in your pantries, you should be cautious enough to keep xylitol away from your four-legged friend.
Sorbitol is safe for dogs and can be a healthy choice if you are looking for a refined sugar alternative for your pup. However, like other sweeteners out there, sorbitol has a few side effects, especially if you allow your dog to consume it in large quantities. So, moderation is key if you want to get the most out of this sweetener. Most importantly, if you see sorbitol in any food or product intended for your dog and you are not sure about the dosage or quantity to give your dog, talk to your vet to help you check on its safety beforehand.