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A popular sweetener among diabetics and those wanting to lose weight has been found to be deadly to dogs and birds.

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Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in baked products, chewing gum, toothpaste and lozenges.

But vets have warned people to keep their pets away from it. While the sweetener is safe for humans, it can lead to pancreas and liver failure and even seizures if eaten by dogs.

It appears that xylitol is also toxic for wild birds. Joburg vet, Dr Brett Gardner, examined the bodies of 30 Cape Sugarbirds that had died within 30 minutes of drinking a solution made with xylitol, from a feeder in a Hermanus garden. Gardner suspects the xylitol triggered a huge insulin release, causing an irreversible drop in blood sugar.