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How to Avoid Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

The Dangers of Antifreeze to Pets

By Lauren Leonardi . December 08, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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A Cat Walking Underneath A Car

Dogs and cats seem to get into everything and if something smells and tastes good, they are definitely going to give it a try. Antifreeze can be fatal to pets, so it's important to make sure your pet stays as far away from it as possible.

Antifreeze poisoning kills many dogs and cats every year. Ingesting antifreeze can also cause irreversible kidney damage in pets. If you can recognize the signs of poisoning quickly, you can give your animal a fighting chance. You can also take steps to avoid antifreeze poisoning in dogs and cats.

WHAT IS ANTIFREEZE?

Ethylene glycol, or EG, is the active ingredient in most antifreeze solutions, and it can kill many different species, including dogs, cats, and humans. EG is added to engine coolant even in areas with no danger of frost. It has a number of other uses, including in hydraulic brake fluid or some liquid rust inhibitors.

HOW DOES ANTIFREEZE POISONING HAPPEN?

Animals (and children) can come into contact with improperly stored EG or puddles where EG leaked from cars. Pets might drink from a puddle tainted with EG, absorb it through skin contact, or lick it off while grooming. EG tastes sweet, so sometimes a bittering agent is added to it for safety. Unfortunately, dogs can ignore bittering agents, and regardless, it doesn’t matter whether they like the taste or not. An extremely small or diluted dose can still do damage. Animals don’t have to drink much to get sick.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF ANTIFREEZE POISONING?

EG is chemically similar to alcohol, so the first symptom of poisoning is drunkenness. Unfortunately, you might not notice your cat or dog is acting drunk, especially if the animal reacts by just getting sleepy. And if your pet doesn’t get to a vet within those first few hours, the chances of survival go way down.

Left untreated, the drunkenness will pass after a few hours as the animal’s liver processes the EG into several much more toxic chemicals. Breathing problems, heart problems, and other issues follow, but most pets live through these symptoms. Eventually, the kidneys shut down. Even with treatment, few pets survive.

EG poisoning is very difficult to treat because the early symptoms are so easy to miss, and a lot of unrelated problems have very similar symptoms. The most important thing to look out for is the possibility of EG exposure. Be careful to watch what your pet drinks — drinking rainwater from a puddle in a parking lot could do it.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

One to Three Hours After Poisoning

Your pet’s life depends on early treatment. If you suspect contact with EG, call the vet immediately. If you are sure your pet has not eaten any other poison, your vet may direct you to induce vomiting. Bring a sample of the vomit to the vet. Dogs have an especially good chance of surviving EG poisoning, if treated within the first three hours after ingestion. Cats (and humans) are more susceptible.

Four Hours or More After Poisoning

If you realize your pet is in the later stages of EG poisoning, do not despair; with treatment, survival is still possible, if the animal’s general health is good and kidney damage can be kept to a minimum. Again, dogs have a better chance than cats do.

Prevention

The best thing you can do is prevent EG poisoning in the first place.

Do not store products containing EG around the home; if your car needs more antifreeze, buy what you need and return the excess or give it to a friend.

  • If your car leaks antifreeze, clean up the spill promptly and get the leak repaired.
  • Do not confine your animals to the garage or allow them to drink from puddles that could be contaminated.
  • Even if your animals don’t go outside, clean up after your car. You could be saving your neighbor’s pet.
  • Do not use EG to winterize your plumbing since both cats and dogs sometimes drink from toilets.
  • If you take your pet traveling with you, make sure the house you visit hasn’t been winterized either.

TIP

Propylene glycol is sometimes used instead of ethylene glycol and billed as non-toxic antifreeze. It is safe for dogs, but not for cats.

More on Dog and Cat Poisoning

The Most Poisonous Foods for Dogs
The Most Poisonous Food for Cats
Why Chocolate is Bad for Dogs and Cats

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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