Protecting Your Pets from Antifreeze Poisoning


The arrival of winter is always a good time to remind pet owners about the dangers of antifreeze to dogs and cats. An estimated 90,000 pets are poisoned by antifreeze each year, not surprising since cats and dogs like the taste of antifreeze and will consume it from open containers or lick spilled antifreeze off of the garage floor or driveway. Here are some essential facts all pet owners should know about how to protect their fur kids from antifreeze.


How does antifreeze harm pets?

The harmful toxin in antifreeze is a chemical compound called ethylene glycol. In addition to being a main component of antifreeze, it can also be found in things like windshield wiper and brake fluid, motor oil, and other substances like paints and solvents. Ethylene glycol harms dogs and cats by causing kidney damage, and kidney failure leading to death, when ingested.


How much antifreeze can harm pets?

Very small amounts of antifreeze (or other liquids containing ethylene glycol) can harm pets, even the small amount a cat can swallow by licking his paws after walking through a spill. One teaspoon can be fatal to a cat. One tablespoon can cause kidney failure in dogs, while five tablespoons can easily kill a medium-sized dog.


What are the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning?

Pet health experts note that there are three stages to ethylene glycol poisoning. Stage 1 poisoning happens between ½ hour and 12 hours after ingestion. Look for symptoms like difficulty walking, vomiting, seizures, delirium, and excessive thirst and urination. Stage 2 poisoning occurs between 12 and 24 hours after swallowing. The symptoms of the first stage may start to go away, but the kidney damage is still happening. Cats experience Stage 3 poisoning 12 to 24 hours after ingestion; dogs experience Stage 3 poisoning 36 to 72 hours after ingestion. Your pet will be experiencing dangerous kidney failure, showing signs such as loss of appetite, drooling, lethargy, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and coma.


What is the treatment for antifreeze poisoning?

Bring your pet to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect antifreeze poisoning. In the first few hours after ingestion, your vet can induce vomiting and give your pet charcoal to eliminate the toxin from the body. A drug that stops the liver from processing the dangerous components of antifreeze will be given to your pet in the first few hours as well. Quick action is essential to your pet’s survival.


Many pets will die if they progress to Stage 3 kidney failure before getting to the vet. Most pets with severe kidney damage will not be able to survive. Some can be saved with very aggressive (and expensive) treatments like dialysis, and rarely, kidney transplants.


How to prevent antifreeze poisoning in pets

  • Don’t let your pet walk around unsupervised in an area where there is antifreeze, including keeping outdoor cats and dogs on walks away from spills on the ground.
  • Clean up any spills that do occur immediately. Check your car for leaks often and get them repaired right away.
  • Don’t leave open containers of antifreeze around the house or garage. Cover them securely and keep them away from pets, like in a cabinet. Dispose of empty containers quickly and properly. Even ones that seem empty can still contain enough to harm a small animal.
  • Check the labels of any antifreeze products before buying. Ones that contain propylene glycol are safer for pets than those containing ethylene glycol. Also check labels to see if the manufacturer has added a bittering agent to the product so that it will be unpleasant tasting for your pet. A common one is called denatonium benzoate.



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