Regular candy gummy bears, while not directly toxic, are high in sugar and likely to cause an upset tummy. This is especially true when eaten in significant quantities. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Many candies, including gummy bears, are now available in sugar-free formulas. These formulas may contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs. Even more toxic than chocolate, xylitol only needs to be eaten in small quantities to be dangerous. If the quantity is large enough, it can even be fatal to a dog.
Are Gummy Bears Bad for Dogs?
Regular Gummy Bears
Here we refer to the traditional candy gummy bears formulated without artificial sweeteners. Though they are full of sugar and don’t provide any nutritional value, they aren’t directly poisonous or toxic.
One or two bears, especially if eaten by a large dog, are unlikely to cause any significant adverse effects at all. However, if eaten in large quantities especially by small dogs or puppies, they may cause gastroenteritis (an upset tummy) resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, they are best to be avoided.
It’s also worth noting that some dogs will eat sweets and candies along with the plastic wrapper. Plastic is not only a choking hazard but also risks causing a blockage in the gut (intestinal obstruction). Contact your vet as soon as possible if you suspect your dog has eaten plastic.
Sugar-Free Gummy Bears (Xylitol Toxicity)
This is where the biggest danger lies. It’s also why it is best never to feed gummy candies to dogs. If there is any possibility they contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, it’s not worth the risk. Xylitol has become popular in several human products to decrease the calorie content and for its plaque-reducing effects.
This common artificial sweetener can be found in sugar-free gummy bears, jelly beans, breath mints, chewable vitamin gummies, protein bars, peanut butter, mouth wash, toothpaste, and even in some medications.
Xylitol has two major toxic effects on dogs. It causes severe hypoglycemia (critically low blood sugar or blood glucose levels) and also direct damage to the liver, both of which can be deadly. If you suspect your canine companion has eaten xylitol, call your veterinarian immediately.
Other artificial sweeteners such as maltitol, sorbitol, and steviol glycosides (Stevia) are also found in gummy bears and gummy candies. Fortunately, these are non-toxic to dogs; however, you might remember the popular product reviews for the sugar-free Haribo gummy bears – when eaten in larger quantities, these artificially-sweetened bears can cause significant gastrointestinal upsets and diarrhea.
THC Gummy Bears or ‘Edibles’
Due to its legalization in some states, marijuana (Cannabis sativa/Cannabis indica) is becoming more commonly used for medicinal purposes and recreational use. As a result, cases of accidental pet intoxication have also significantly increased over the last few years, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.
Cannabinoids are the active substances from the marijuana plant and the most common are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the psychoactive or ‘high-inducing’ effects and is the active ingredient that is toxic to pets.
If you suspect your pup has been exposed to marijuana in any form, contact your veterinarian immediately. Always be honest about what your pet has eaten. It is your veterinarian’s job and priority to successfully treat your dog, not to report you to the police.
My Dog Ate Gummy Bears: What Now?
Did your canine companion help himself to a pack of gummies? Depending on the size of your dog, type of gummies eaten, and ingredient list, you may need to act quickly. Here’s what to do next.
Step 1: Check Your Dog
Examine your dog closely. Are they showing any signs of illness or discomfort? Has there been any vomiting or diarrhea? Do you notice them panting and pacing, or any excessive drooling? Are they bright and comfortable?
If you notice signs of distress, go to the nearest emergency vet ASAP., These signs may include collapse, seizures, or tremors. If you know your pup has eaten gummies containing toxic ingredients such as xylitol or marijuana, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Step 2: Clear The Area
Clean up any remaining gummy bears and their packaging. Make sure your canine companion and any other pets can’t get to them. If the trash can is accessible, make sure it is pet-secure or consider moving it from reach.
Step 3: Detective Work
Gather as much information as possible before you call the vet. Try and work out how many were eaten. You might need to estimate how much of the pack is missing.
Did your pup eat or chew up the packaging in the process? When might they have consumed the gummies? Most importantly, did they contain xylitol or artificial sweetener?
Look up the ingredients online if the packaging is missing. Xylitol is sometimes listed under E967 or INS 967. If you aren’t sure of the brand or ingredients, make sure you tell the vet.
Step 4: Call Your Veterinarian
Give them all the information you have gathered so far, as well as your pet’s weight, breed, age, and if they have any illnesses. If your dog is currently well and ate just a few regular gummies, your vet may recommend monitoring them at home. You’ll need to watch for any signs of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
If your pup is sick, has eaten the plastic packaging, or xylitol ingestion is suspected, your vet will ask you to bring them down to the clinic for an examination and treatment as appropriate. If you have the packaging, bring this with you to the vet.
What Are The Major Risks?
Regular candy gummy bears made without artificial sweeteners are unlikely to cause serious harm to dogs, especially if eaten in small amounts. You may not notice any adverse effects at all, especially if only one or two bears have been eaten.
Dogs that have eaten a large volume, as well as small breed dogs and puppies, are more likely to show signs of gastroenteritis (see below). Remember if you have any concerns about your pet’s health it’s always best to speak to a veterinary professional.
Dogs that have eaten a large number of gummies are more likely to end up with an upset tummy, especially smaller breeds or puppies. Signs of gastroenteritis include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and loss of interest in their food.
This is usually transient and will resolve with time. It’s still always best to get advice from your vet, especially for puppies and small breed dogs. Smaller dogs can and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar levels).
Low Blood Sugar and Liver Damage
One of the main reasons we should avoid feeding gummy bears and other candies to our dogs is that some of them contain xylitol- the artificial sweetener that is safe for humans but highly toxic to dogs. The toxicity is dose-dependent and even small amounts can be fatal, especially to small dogs.
At toxic doses, xylitol causes a significant drop in blood glucose (blood sugar) levels known as hypoglycemia. Signs of hypoglycemia start with vomiting, weakness, and wobbliness and progress to tremors, seizures, and death as the blood glucose levels decrease. Signs of hypoglycemia can occur as soon as 30-60 minutes after a dog ingests xylitol. These effects can last for over 12 hours and are deadly if left untreated.
Unfortunately, xylitol can also cause hepatic necrosis – severe and sudden damage to the liver that can progress to acute liver failure. Signs of liver damage may not reveal themselves for 12-24 hours after exposure or longer.
As the liver is responsible for producing many of the blood’s clotting factors, failure can even lead to spontaneous internal bleeding (coagulopathy). Dogs that develop hepatic necrosis have a much more guarded prognosis for recovery and require extensive medical treatment.
Time is of the essence when it comes to xylitol toxicity, and the sooner you can get your dog to a vet, the better.
Marijuana or THC Toxicity
Marijuana toxicity in dogs can cause a range of signs progressing from sedation, lethargy, dilated pupils, wobbliness, and vomiting. It can also cause agitation, vocalization, dribbling urine, tremors, and seizures in more serious cases.
It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 12 hours for signs of marijuana toxicity to appear. Dogs can be exposed by eating ‘edibles’ such as THC gummy bears, consuming their owner’s stash (in any form), or through second-hand smoke inhalation. If your dog has been exposed to marijuana, contact your veterinarian immediately, as they will likely require medical treatment.
Potential Intestinal Obstruction
If your pup chewed up pieces of the plastic packaging and swallowed them along with the gummy bears, there is a risk of developing a blockage in the gut or intestinal obstruction. Signs of intestinal obstruction are vomiting (often multiple times), struggling to pass feces, loss of appetite. They will also struggle to keep down food/water, and this may be accompanied by diarrhea.
If you notice signs of a blockage contact your vet immediately as this is an emergency and should be seen as soon as possible.
What Could Happen to My Dog?
For dogs that have eaten regular pieces, no major veterinary intervention is usually required. However, as large quantities can cause gastroenteritis, your vet may prescribe treatment for an upset tummy.
If your pup has eaten sugar-free gummies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol, the situation is completely different. Time is of the essence and veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible. If your dog has only just eaten them, your vet will induce vomiting if it is safe to do so.
Your pup may need to stay in the hospital for blood tests and be placed on an IV glucose drip until the toxic effects have passed. There is no known antidote for xylitol toxicity.
Unfortunately for dogs that go on to develop hepatic necrosis or liver damage, the prognosis is guarded. These dogs often require long periods of intensive hospital care to try and support the liver and some will die from xylitol toxicity, despite the best medical care.
If your dog has accidentally ingested marijuana in the form of THC gummy bears there is also no antidote, but most dogs do well with supportive care in hospital on an IV drip. Activated charcoal is sometimes used to help with detoxification in these cases.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much xylitol is toxic to dogs?
Can dogs eat one gummy bear?
Should I make my dog vomit?
Regular candy gummy bears are unlikely to cause any lasting damage to your dog. Usually, you’ll be dealing with just an upset tummy! However, the sugar-free versions can be deadly if they contain xylitol – so why risk it? Make sure to keep all candy secure and out of reach to pets. Always supervise children closely when eating around dogs.