This common food ingredient could kill your dog

CHARLOTTE — An ingredient in dozens of foods and household items is making dogs sick. It's even blamed for killing some family pets.

Harmless to humans, the sugar substitute xylitol - found in many gums, mints, even some peanut butters - can be deadly to dogs. It causes their blood sugar to rapidly drop and can lead to liver failure.

Parker Hollander found out the hard way. He didn't think it was a big deal when his dog Nellie got into a package of mints.

But 30 minutes later, he said "she tried walking over to me. She couldn't really make it over to me, was stumbling, falling over."

Hollander rushed Nellie to an animal hospital.

"I was terrified. I thought my dog was dying," he said.

It was chewing gum that Samantha Caress says killed her 2-year-old dog Luna.

"Her kidney tests weren't good, and that they were shutting down, and that we didn't really have any other choice but to put her down," she said.

The symptoms of xylitol poisoning include disorientation, trouble walking, and seizures.

Xylitol is being used in more and more products -- even in specialty brands of peanut butter, which some dog owners give their pets as a treat.

"It's becoming progressively more prevalent and therefore progressively more dangerous to dogs," said veterinarian Kim Bishop with Total Bond Veterinary Hospital.

Dr. Bishop says even the smallest amount of xylitol - for any size dog - warrants a trip to the vet hospital. But she says for smaller dogs, the prognosis is more serious without quick treatment.

"Time is of the essence," she said. "If we can get it out of their stomach before they've absorbed it, then we're in the clear."

Now, Hollander checks ingredient labels and is much more careful about which products he leaves sitting out.

"It's terrifying that some little thing like that could essentially kill my dog - just kill my best friend," he said.

Many animal groups have called for warning labels on products with xylitol. But until that happens, it's important you know the growing list of products that contain it.