Q My cat is squinting and pawing at her eye. I think she has pink eye. Would Visine help her?

A: Any squinting or eye pain in a pet should be treated as an urgent and potentially serious medical matter. You should bring your cat to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Sometimes scratches on the eye, foreign bodies or corneal ulcers can progress to permanent eye damage. Successful treatment depends upon prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Eye conditions are more serious and painful than most pet owners appreciate. Your cat deserves prompt relief.

Q: Are artificial sweeteners safe for dogs?

A: Absolutely not! For many people, sharing food with pets is a daily routine, despite the numerous pleas from veterinarians to limit “people food.” We know that giving a pet table scraps encourages begging, can make her obese, and may make her a finicky eater. Now we have to be concerned about “sugar free” human foods that can actually cause liver failure in dogs due to dangerous artificial sweeteners!

The most dangerous of the artificial sweeteners may be Xylitol. First used in the 1960s in Europe as a substitute for sucrose when sugar was scarce, Xylitol is now found in many countries across the world. For many Americans and Europeans, the sugar substitute, Xylitol, has been an amazing development in the fight against tooth decay and in helping diabetics gain better control over their disease.

Most Xylitol is developed from processing corn cobs, wood chips (especially birch), or other plant material. Although it tastes just as sweet as sucrose, it has about 40 percent less food energy, making it ideal for “low carb” dieters and for diabetics who need to monitor their intake of carbohydrates. Most often, Xylitol is found in gums and toothpastes, although many other food items, such as breads and desserts may also contain this sugar substitute. Documented claims of reducing dental cavities and helping to minimize the severity of ear infections are just some of the positive attributes of Xylitol. Even the U.S. Military has added sugar free gum containing Xylitol into their Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

However, a report published several years ago in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) documented the illness in eight dogs. Five of the eight dogs died or were euthanized due to complications stemming from Xylitol ingestion. Additionally, the ASPCA Poison Control Center has documented an increase in the number of Xylitol-related pet exposures.

It appears that dogs ingesting a large amount of the sugar substitute develop a profound hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, within 30 minutes of consumption. This decrease in blood sugar is due to a rapid increase in the production of insulin in the dog’s body.

Even smaller amounts of Xylitol can be harmful. A 22-pound dog who consumes just 1 gram of Xylitol can generate the rapid insulin production and the associated drop in blood sugar levels. As a comparison, the popular gum, Trident contains almost 0.20 grams of Xylitol in each stick. In other words, a dog that gets a hold of a single pack of gum may be in life-threatening danger. Other “people food,” such as raspberries and mushrooms can contain up to 1 gram of Xylitol in a single cup.

Dogs that consume Xylitol will most often appear to be weak and uncoordinated, due to the sudden decrease in blood sugar levels. The pet may also start to seizure as potassium levels in the blood start to drop as well. Due to the severity and quick mechanism of action, anyone who suspects that their pet may have ingested a Xylitol containing product should seek veterinary advice immediately.

While they appear to be less dangerous than Xylitol, any artificial sweetener should be avoided when deciding what to feed your pets.

Of course, the best policy is to only feed your pets products specifically designed for their specific species. With all the selections available in your local pet store, you should be able to find many worry-free options for treating your pets.

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Dr. Watts is a companion animal general practitioner and owner of Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care. He can be reached at 540/428-1000.