If you have pets and you regularly chew sugarless gum, you may be putting those animals in danger.

(michaeljung, ThinkStock)

The sweetener xylitol is showing up in alarmingly high numbers in dogs that ingest chewing gum that owners accidentally leave around.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Pet Poison Helpline has fielded more than 2,800 calls this year about suspected xylitol ingestion. That is up from 300 in 2009.

The artificial sweetener is used in a variety of chewing gum brands such as Trident and Orbit. It can also be found in sugarless candies typically consumed by diabetics and those monitoring their sugar intake.

"The body identifies the xylitol as sugar, it causes a rush of insulin to be released. And as a result, the blood sugar in the pet drops, and then we have a cascade of different events," Dr. Peter Falk of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association explained.

When ingested by humans, however, the sweetener doesn't have the same harmful effects.

Falk says xylitol may cause dogs to vomit, show weakness, tremors, seizures and without immediate veterinary attention, the pet could ultimately die.

"Since this xylitol is a fast-acting toxin, it is not something to wait on because it can start to take effect within 30 minutes," Falk said.

He says if the dog is treated quickly enough, there should be a good result. Bottom line, however, pet owners should call the vet immediately if they believe their pet has ingested a confection containing xylitol. Also, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be contacted quickly at 888-426-4435.

Xylitol joins a long list of other harmful foods and substances that can harm your dog or cat. According to the ASPCA, that list includes: Alcohol, avocado, chocolate, coffee and caffeine, citrus, coconut and coconut oil, grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, milk and dairy, nuts, onions, garlic, chives, raw/undercooked meat, eggs and bones, salt and salty, snack foods and yeast dough.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.