Published: Nov 14, 2013 10:32 PM EST
Updated: Nov 15, 2013 12:37 AM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - 'Tis the season for big family feasts. Whether it's Thanksgiving or Christmas, Dr. Andrea Hernandez with Best Friends Animal Hospital in Gateway warns that sharing with your pet can mean a not-so-festive trip to the vet.

"You know when it's holiday season because certain cases spike for us and it's usually food-induced," Hernandez said. "We see a lot of people that like to give their dogs table scraps. We'll see anywhere from vomiting to diarrhea."

Sure, we know turkey and gravy can make animals sick but there's a sweeter ingredient you may not know about that can be life-threatening. "Xylitol is very very toxic for dogs," Hernandez said. "Their symptoms can go anywhere from vomiting to lethargy all the way to liver failure."

Xylitol is widely-used as a lower-calorie, sugar substitute. You can buy it in a bag and use it as a sweetener or for baking. You can also find it in a variety of sugar-free mints and gums. But, as the popularity of sugar-free products increases, so are cases of animals getting sick from exposure to Xylitol.

Cases are on the rise. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control, the number of Xylitol-related cases have nearly doubled since 2007. Dogs can get into purses or groceries on the floor. And, sometimes, owners even share a piece of dessert. Within 30 minutes, or as late as three days after exposure, your pet can get extremely sick. "You can see vomiting, lethargy, they can be acting a little neurological, meaning they can't walk well and they can go all the way to a seizure," Hernandez said.

The good news: if treated quickly and aggressively, your dog can get better. Just remember to store Xylitol where paws can't reach.

While Xylitol is toxic to dogs, doctors say its effects on cats isn't known at this time. As for us, the sweetener is perfectly fine because our metabolism is different from animals.