I remember my first taste of Diet Coke. It was also my last. The taste, to me, is similar to bug spray.
But that’s OK. Different strokes for different folks.
However, the taste is important for another reason. Artificial sweeteners in diet sodas, candy, gum, etc. are tricksters for your taste buds. They mimic the molecular shape of sweet compounds, such as sugar, but aren’t the real thing. Often, they contain a cyclic structure called a phenolic ring.
This is where I lose the people who hated organic chemistry. But not to worry, I’m really only teasing the organic chemistry lovers, for the details go no further.
This ring structure in the molecule makes it useless for energy supply. Thus, we ingest fewer calories.
But if you’re a human with a specific quirk in your metabolic machinery, the ring structure can make you sick. Many products with such sweeteners contain warnings on their labels about such problems. PKU refers to phenylketonuria, and it can be very serious.
In my job, PKU isn’t much of an issue. The dangers associated with artificial sweeteners are.
Artificially sweetened products will kill your pet.
No, they are not likely to cause cancer. No, they are not going to cause brain damage. But they do kill.
And much in the same way they work for people who like them.
Xylitol is the artificial sugar-type sweetener often found in “sugarless” gum. It’s not as bad as Diet Coke (to me), but it’s deadly to pets. Through a very complicated cascade of metabolic dysfunction, xylitol makes the control of blood sugar go completely haywire.
Blood sugar is important. It drives brain function, and the brain drives pretty much everything else.
So if you are a fan of diet sodas, gum, candy or anything else with artificial sweeteners in it, lock it up where pets have no chance of exposure. And like all human foods, don’t share it.
Extremely small amounts of these compounds can be life threatening in less time than it would take me to force down a Diet Coke. Just thinking about it gives me chills.
Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.