Antifreeze Poisoning in Pets
December 11, 2010
This cold snap has got me thinking about anti-freeze. I think about it every time a suddenly-sick pet comes in the office door and I think about it when I open that nice bottle of red wine to drink while I warm up by the fire. Sometimes knowledge is a curse. But that being the case, I will share that knowledge with you, because it could save your pet’s life.
Lets start with the fun facts. In the early 1980s, Austrian wine makers had some bad years. The grapes didn’t ripen enough to produce nice sweet wines. So, a few Austrians cheated. They added ethylene glycol to the wine. Ethylene glycol is antifreeze, but did know that it tasted good? When added to wine in very small amounts, it worked as a nice sweetener. Unfortunately, it probably killed a few people too.
One teaspoon of ethylene glycol can kill a 10 pound cat and a tablespoon can kill a small dog. And, the problem is that it tastes so good, that cats and dogs quickly lap up a lethal dose before you even realize that it is leaking from your car or that a bottle has been knocked over in your garage. Many pets, especially cats, find antifreeze under neighbor’s leaking cars, so the owner of the cat has no idea of the exposure at all
At first, an affected animal will appear to be drunk. They stagger and are lethargic. This is followed by increased thirst, vomiting and possibly seizures. The drunken state is short lived, so the pet may appear to recover before the other signs set in. Don’t be fooled by this. If your pet is acting drunk, seek treatment immediately because every second counts. Treatment is most successful when pets are treated before any symptoms even start.
The ethylene glycol causes crystals to form in the kidneys, causing severe and often irreversible damage. Your veterinarian may pick up these crystals in a urine sample. If not, a blood test can confirm the presence of antifreeze. If you or your veterinarian suspect antifreeze poisoning, your pet will be hospitalized for 3-4 days of intensive intravenous treatments to try to save the kidneys.
Obviously, the best protection for your pets is to be vigilant about spills and clean them up immediately. You can wash spills off driveways with a hose, but be sure that all of that water goes down a drain. Any contaminated water sitting around will be sweet and tempting to an animal. You can also soak up a spill with cat litter and then sweep it up to be discarded in an animal-proof garbage can.
Keep automotive supplies sealed and out of reach of pets. Some snow globes contain antifreeze, so be sure not to let a pet around a broken snow globe (who knew?!).
Some cities and states have tried to require that antifreeze contain an agent to make it taste bitter, but this isn’t universal, so lots of sweet ethylene glycol is still out there. An alternative to ethylene glycol is propylene glycol. This agent also acts to decrease the freezing point of water, but it isn’t quite as toxic. Large amounts are still bad for a pet, but they are less likely to consume enough to cause kidney failure.
If you suspect your pet has ingested any type of antifreeze, contact or get to a veterinarian immediately. Like I said, every second counts in the fight to save the kidneys.