A black and white dog in heavy snow

This time of year brings cold weather, which brings a unique set of dangers to our pets. Understanding these wintertime hazards can help you to better protect your four-legged family. One frosty, but serious, danger during this season is antifreeze poisoning in pets. Beverly Hills Veterinary Associates thinks that it is essential for pet owners to understand this deadly winter toxin so that they can avoid trouble.

Antifreeze Poisoning in Pets

Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient in antifreeze. It is also extremely toxic to pets. Ingestion of only a very tiny amount (even a teaspoon) can have a devastating effect. Even a few splashes on the driveway could be deadly. 

Perhaps most concerning is that aside from its potent toxicity, antifreeze also has an appealing and sweet taste. This makes it dangerously attractive to curious pets. 

When ethylene glycol is ingested, it almost immediately will begin to affect the kidneys. Symptoms within the first few hours include:

  • Depression
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Vomiting
  • Staggering or incoordination
  • Seizure

Without intervention, the animal will progress into full kidney failure. In this condition the body stops making urine. By the time things have progressed this far, even aggressive treatment is unlikely to be successful.

What to Do if a Pet Drinks Antifreeze

Because antifreeze poisoning in pets is so serious and occurs so quickly, if your pet drinks antifreeze (or if you even suspect that they may have), time is of the essence. Early intervention is vital, and there are no home remedies to combat the effects of ethylene glycol. 

If a pet drinks antifreeze, it is important to get immediate veterinary attention. Contact us right away, do not delay. Pets must be treated within 8-12 hours of ingestion (within 3 hours for cats), and the sooner the better. 

Ethylene glycol toxicity can often be confirmed by blood testing and characteristic crystals seen in the urine under the microscope.

If the ingestion is caught quickly, treatment by inducing vomiting to remove as much antifreeze from the stomach is often indicated. After this, administration of activated charcoal to absorb any leftover toxin may be helpful. Intravenous administration of an antidote such as fomepizole or ethanol can also help protect the kidneys.

Fortunately there are things that can be done to decrease your pet’s risk of being exposed to antifreeze. 

  • Be sure to dispose of radiator fluid properly
  • Safely store any new or used fluid in a sealed container 
  • Be vigilant and fix any noted leaks
  • Immediately clean up any spilled antifreeze with something like cat litter 
  • Consider using safer products that have been manufactured to deter animals from ingesting them
  • Supervise your pets outdoors 

For dogs and cats, antifreeze is serious business. This winter do your part to help them avoid any contact with this dangerous pet toxin so that you do not have to experience its effects first hand.