Rifling through the fridge on Monday morning I found a full pack of gum that I‘m sure I never purchased. It was Trident’s cinnamon flavor—and it boasted brightly-colored letters on the label which read: “With Xylitol!”

How the heck this product got into a household with dogs is pretty obvious: The same household had hosted a birthday party for a pack of wild ten year-old children on the previous day. Someone not in-the-know had obviously left it behind.

Unfortunately, the majority of dog owners are still in the dark on the Xylitol thing. Surprisingly, so are vets. Though the canine lethality of this increasingly common household toxin was reported in 2006 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, it’s unlikely more than a quarter of vets even glanced at the abstract. (There’s just too much to read, what with the proliferation of journals that seem to reproduce on our desks like so many litters of unwanted kittens.)

In fact, two weeks ago I attended a meeting of the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association (of which I confess I’m now a card-carrying board member). One of the participants held up this month’s trade publication, Veterinary Practice News, its large glossy pages opened to an article on Xylitol toxicity. He urged us all to be aware of this liver-toxic artificial sweetener found in gums, candies and sugar-free pastries.

Now, this is an excellent, responsible thing for this fellow vet to have done. Unfortunately, it also underscored the point that we’re still battling for awareness of this toxin—almost two years after the news hit the presses. The fact that it’s just now made it into the mainstream vet publications is testament to this.

Gratefully, articles have appeared in many consumer-oriented publications, most notably on a prominent page in USA Today (if you read closely, you'll see that Dolittler is mentioned). And many of us in the profession have been doing our part to get the word out. We keep writing these articles and telling our clients, but still it’s not making a dent in the overall awareness level.

Worst of all, new products which include this inexpensive, highly toxic ingredient (a couple of sugar-free muffins can kill as small dog) are still hitting our supermarket shelves. Despite the pet food recall and the public’s heated response to the presence of toxins in their pets’ purportedly wholesome diets, issues of human-food additives killing our pets seem almost wholly ignored by the masses.

Just as the pet food recall’s toxins made their way insidiously into the healthcare arena through symptoms easily confused with other disease processes, Xylitol’s victims suffer a similar misfortune. Until pet owners and their vets know what to look for (seizures, liver failure), until Xylitol awareness becomes widespread and until warning signs and prominent labels appear along with these products (or get outlawed altogether), we’ll surely be seeing more and more of these cases.

I just hope it doesn’t take widespread pet deaths for the public to wake up to Xylitol’s reality. In the meantime, I’ll be tossing out the Trident.