The Deadly Facts about Antifreeze in Cats & Dogs

Waking up to these first few crisp mornings is a good reminder to pet owners (and non-pet owners) about the dangers associated with antifreeze.

Antifreeze poisoning is one of the most common forms of pet poisoning this time of year and can be one of the most fatal toxins your pet will ever ingest. Commonly found in almost every household, antifreeze poisoning usually occurs when spills from a car’s radiator are licked off the pavement, driveways or parking lots. The deadly toxin in antifreeze is ethylene glycol and dogs love its sweet flavour. Ingested readily, it only takes a very little amount to cause significant damage, effecting your pet’s liver, kidneys and brain.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in dogs and cats can include nausea/vomiting, wobbly drunken behaviour, uncoordinated movement, excessive urination, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, weakness, collapse, tremors/seizures, coma and death.

For immediate first aid, try to induce vomiting. This is only recommended if you have witnessed your dog ingesting antifreeze. Both hydrogen peroxide and table salt are commonly used to induce vomiting in pets but it is recommended to phone your veterinarian for assistance first.  Using either of these methods can be dangerous as some toxins can do more damage than good when brought back up through the esophagus.  Never force your pet to vomit if your pet is having trouble breathing or is unconscious. No matter the amount ingested or if you’ve been successful at inducing vomiting, always seek immediate medical attention from your veterinarian.  Time matters.  The faster treatment starts the better chance your pet has at survival.  If you are not 100% sure that your pet ingested antifreeze, your vet will confirm with an ethylene glycol test.  Your veterinarian will most likely administer IV fluids, an antidote and activated charcoal to stop any further absorption.  Survival rate will depend on the amount of antifreeze ingested and the amount of time between ingestion and medical treatment. Those that survive the initial poisoning will most likely develop kidney failure within days of ingestion. Unfortunately death is extremely common due to kidney failure post antifreeze poisoning.

The best way to protect your pet is to prevent spills from happening in the first place. Keep all dangerous chemicals out of reach of pets and children.  When using antifreeze at home, clean up any drips or spills thoroughly and immediately by rinsing with plenty of water or cover the area with kitty litter to soak up the residue and  dispose of safely. Whether you own a pet or not, it is important that we all take immediate responsibility for our spills.  If you see what looks to be antifreeze in a parking lot or outside of a storefront, bring it to the building’s owner or manager immediately. By being aware of its dangers, the proper handling recommendations and knowing the signs and symptoms of antifreeze toxicity, you could potentially save yours or somebody else’s beloved pet.

Written by Van Isle Veterinary Hospital