Antifreeze Danger to Pets

Prevent Accidental Poisoning

Border collie

Winter conditions can present deadly dangers to dogs and cats, particularly one pet owners may not be aware of: antifreeze poisoning.

This sweet-tasting poison is unfortunately appealing to animals and consumption of a very small amount can lead to rapid kidney failure and death within a very short period of time.

How Are Pets Exposed to Antifreeze?

Antifreeze is commonly used in car cooling systems and home plumbing systems to help maintain heat during winter months. Decorative snow globes also contain 2% antifreeze — enough to be toxic should the snow globe shatter and leak.

Antifreeze

Pets may become exposed to antifreeze if it’s leaking from a car radiator onto a garage floor, driveway or the street. Pets can also gain access to antifreeze should it not be flushed from a home plumbing system or directly from the containers in your garage if they are not stored out of reach.

Why is Antifreeze Toxic to Pets?

Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is toxic to dogs and cats.

The metabolic products of the ethylene glycol cause severe damage to the pet’s kidneys, which then produce a toxic exposure to the central nervous system.

A very small amount of antifreeze is deadly to pets. For example, if your dog or cat walks through a puddle of antifreeze and then licks his paws, enough antifreeze can be ingested to cause death.

Immediate veterinary treatment is necessary to prevent the toxin from being absorbed into the pet’s liver.

What Are the Symptoms of Antifreeze Poisoning?

Cat walks in snow

Clinical signs of antifreeze exposure can occur in as little as 30 minutes and as long as 12 hours. Do not wait for symptoms to appear to go to your vet. Instead, if you have any concerns about potential ingestion, visit a vet immediately.

Symptoms include confusion, vomiting, an increase in thirst and urination, depression, lethargy, sores in the pet’s mouth and noticeable bad breath.

Immediate veterinary treatment is necessary to prevent the toxin from being absorbed into the pet’s liver.

How Are Pets Treated for Antifreeze Poisoning?

If you suspect your pet has consumed antifreeze, your veterinarian will immediately begin treating your dog or cat with one of the following remedies:

  • An IV drip of ethanol (grain alcohol) to counteract the antifreeze toxin.
  • Administering 4-methylpyrazole, a medication that slows down the metabolism of the toxin. If treated soon enough, the medication can allow the toxin to be excreted safely.
  • Dialysis, an aggressive treatment available through a veterinary specialist, can be used to remove toxins not being excreted by the diseased kidneys. This tactic is used to keep your pet alive in the hopes of giving the kidneys a chance to repair.

In addition, blood and urine samples will usually be taken to definitively determine whether or not your pet has ingested antifreeze.

The earlier treatment is started, the greater chance your pet has of survival.

Prevent Antifreeze Poisoning in Pets

Take preventive measures to keep your pets from accidental antifreeze poisoning:

Dog walking in winter conditions
  • Keep antifreeze in sealed containers out of reach of pets.
  • Dispose used antifreeze containers and rags in a garbage can pets can’t access or open.
  • Routinely check your garage floor and driveway for antifreeze leaks or spills. Cat litter is one way to absorb antifreeze leaks – dispose of it immediately after use, in a garbage bag that can be securely sealed.
  • After returning home from a walk, wash your pet’s paws in warm, soapy water in case he was unknowingly exposed to antifreeze while outside.
  • Switch to a pet-safe, propylene glycol based antifreeze. Although not 100% nontoxic, it’s considered less toxic than ethylene glycol based antifreezes. Several brands on the market include Sierra, Sta-Clean and Prestone LowTox Antifreeze/Coolant.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to antifreeze, don’t hesitate — contact your veterinarian immediately to determine a course of action.


Return to the VPI Pet HealthZone

Email this article to a friend or share it via your favorite social network.

Share This page

Related Articles

Pepper and Ginger

An hour after going out for their potty breaks, Pepper and Ginger both started throwing up violently. Their parents soon realized they had ingested poison meant for a pesky gopher.
 Full Story