In less than 24 hours, a perfectly healthy dog can take a turn for the worst. Your pet can be poisoned by an all-natural sugar substitute that's getting more popular in our dietary culture daily. Local veterinarians say it's a growing problem and owners who have experienced it first hand say it's heart breaking.
For the first time in two years, Dave Shiel is making his daily four mile walk alone. In October, Shiel said goodbye to his Great Dane, Quincy, in the most painful way he says he can imagine.
"I can hardly talk about it," says Shiel, holding back tears.
It was on one of his walks that Dave first met Quincy.
"It was by accident," says Shiel. "The Dane Society placed him in a foster home down the street from where I lived and I just happened to see him. I said 'wow, that's a beautiful dog' and he's says 'oh yeah, he's a wonderful dog and he's up for adoption. I said that's nice, I'd like to adopt him."
In a blink of an eye, all 132 pounds of Quincy the Great Dane had taken over his life.
Quincy had his own couch, but preferred Dave's bed. And like a Great Dane, Quincy was a gentle giant but in impeccably good shape.
"They said he was one of the healthiest Great Danes they'd ever seen," says Shiel remembering one of his annual check-ups. "I think part of it was he got a lot of exercise."
But after a routine four mile early morning walk, everything changed.
"It was dark when I walked him and he liked to run around," remembers Shiel. "He liked to go in circles and run around and he got a hold of something that's the only thing we can figure out. It's a mystery to us."
Quincy started to vomit violently when the pair returned to the house. Hours later, the Dane started to gulp water before laying down and remaining very lethargic the rest of the afternoon.
"I took a look at him and his ears were twitching and he was comatose," says Shiel. "I took him immediately to the emergency vet."
In less then six hours, Quincy had taken a turn for the worst.
"Immediately when I got him there the first thing the Doctor asked me if he got into any sugarless gum," says Shiel. "I told him, we don't keep any of that in the house."
Doctors worked hard to save Quincy but it was too late.
His owner says his blood sugar had plummeted, his liver was severely damaged and he had internal bleeding.
A necropsy revealed Quincy had gotten a hold of something with Xylitol in it. Xylitol is an all-natural sweetener that mimics sugar. It's sold as is for baking purposes or sometimes as an ingredient in types of chewing gums or sodas.
"It's very safe for people," says Dr. Perry Jameson, a specialist at Veterinary Specialty Care in Mt. Pleasant. "But it's very toxic for dogs."
Jameson says if not treated Xylitol can poison dogs leading to an excruciating way to die within 24 hours. This year, Dr. Jameson says he's seen four cases of Xylitol poisoning. A stark contrast to just three years ago when he came across his first case.
"It causes their blood sugar to drop dramatically," says Dr. Jameson, who says a drop in blood sugar can eventually lead to liver failure.
"The liver failure is another matter," says the Doctor. "It's hard to treat. You just have to try to keep them steady and alive until the liver can hopefully heal itself."
In Quincy's case, his liver couldn't heal after the damage had been done. Now his owner is trying to spread the word to make sure his experience isn't repeated.
"The overall message is beware of this new product," says Shiel. "Check your labels and keep it away from dogs."