Xylitol has now become the number one cause of dog poisoning in the US, overtaking chocolate, antifreeze and natural toxins, the Sun Herald newspaper reported yesterday. The market for sweeteners is currently booming, as health conscious consumers reach for guilt-free ways of satisfying a sweet tooth. However, any link with pet deaths could put a dampener on the market for Xylitol. The sweetener replaces sugar in sugar-free gum, confectionery, pharmaceuticals, toothpastes and baked goods. It is naturally found in fruit and vegetables, but is commercially produced from birch and other hardwood trees, wood chips and corn cobs. Xylitol is one of the most popular sweeteners, as it has a third of the calories of sugar, a low glycemic index (GI) rating and helps fight cavity-causing bacteria. While the sweetener is safe for humans, Xylitol consumption can cause hypoglycemia in dogs due to low blood sugar levels, the Sun Herald claims. Hypoglycaemia can lead to seizures, liver damage and anaemia in animals. More extreme symptoms include jaundice and bilirubinuria, a breakdown of red blood cells. The number of dogs treated for Xylitol poisoning increased 142 per cent in 2005, according to the US Animal Poison Control Centre (APCC). The APCC stated that even a small amount of xylitol can be fatal for pets. "Our concern used to be mainly with products that contain Xylitol as one of the first ingredients," said Eric Dunayer, APCC toxicology expert, as quoted by the newspaper. "However, we have begun to see problems developing from ingestions of products with lesser amounts of this sweetener." Several gum manufacturers such as Wrigley's have since posted warnings on their websites urging consumers to keep chewing gum away from domestic animals. Sweetener consumption is growing worldwide, according to a recent Mintel report. Just over 34 per cent of UK consumers are now actively avoiding sugar, while in France and Germany the figures are 40 per cent and 37 per cent respectively, the report claims. Sugar-free gum occupies 99 per cent of the market in Poland, 95 per cent in Russia and 92 per cent in the UK. In the US, demand for alternative sweeteners is projected to increase 4 per cent per year to reach $1.1bn in 2010, up from $772m in 2000 and $935m in 2005. Machinery suppliers are also addressing the move towards healthy, sugar-free confectionery. Last month, UK company Baker Perkins designed a depositing system specifically for sweets, breath fresheners and throat lozenges that incorporate Xylitol.