By Terri Jo Neff |
With nearly 78 million dogs living in American homes, Congressman David Schweikert (AZ-06) and two of his Arizona colleagues introduced the Paws Off Act of 2021 on Tuesday aimed at requiring label warnings of the danger of Xylitol, a sugar-substitute found in sugar-free or lite foods and household products, but which can kill a dog if ingested.
According to Schweikert, there were more than 6, 700 poisoning-related calls to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) centers in 2020. And despite awareness campaign efforts by the Food and Drug Administration, most people are unaware Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs and can cause serious illness, even death, if a quantity half the size of a sugar packet is ingested.
Xylitol, also known as birch sugar or sugar alcohol, is often found in breath mints, sugar-free gum, vitamins, cough drops, baked goods, ice cream, peanut butter, mouthwash, and toothpaste. It is also commonly used in fiber gummies, kids’ allergy medications, cough syrups, sugar-free jellies and candies, and dietary sleep aids.
In announcing the Paws Off Act, Schweikert noted the prevalence of Xylitol is increasing, thus making it harder for pet owners to identify which commonplace household items can be deadly for their dogs. The proposed federal legislation seeks to require labeling changes to ensure pet safety.
“With roughly 50% of American household’s owning one pet or more, it is vital that families be informed of the dangers many basic items and products can pose to their animal’s lives,” Schweikert said. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to heighten awareness around this chemical so that pets may remain protected.”
Under the legislation, Section 403 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act would be amended to address the need for labeling an item containing Xylitol with a warning of the toxic effect if ingested by dogs. A product would be considered “mislabeled” if the warning is missing.
In addition, the Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services would be required to ensure the Commissioner of Food and Drugs initiates the rulemaking process, with an interim rule due no later than six months after enactment of Paws Off Act of 2021. A final rule must then be issued “no later than one year after date of enactment of this Act.”
The proposed legislation has the support of the FDA and other groups which advocate for the care for dogs.
“For millions of American households our pets are family. And no family should lose a beloved dog because they didn’t realize a breath mint or toothpaste may be safe for human use but create a toxic reaction in dogs,” said Sara Amundson, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Preventing these tragedies is why we support the Paws Off Act, and we thank Representative Schweikert and his bipartisan cosponsors for introducing this critical federal bill.”
Dr. José Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, had similar praise for the effort.
“Despite the deadly harm Xylitol presents to dogs and other pets, it is frequently not listed in the ingredient label in products we use on an everyday basis,” said Arce. “We must enact the Paws Off Act of 2021 to inform the public about which products contain the artificial sweetener and the poisonous effect it has on our pets.”
Xylitol poisoning produces symptoms within 20 minutes in a healthy dog, such as vomiting, decreased activity level, weakness and collapse, difficulty walking or standing, shaking or seizures, bleeding problems, liver failure, and coma. Its impact can be more sudden -and severe- in older dogs and those with preexisting medical problems.