Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) has a sweet taste that attracts pets. Even in small amounts, antifreeze is lethal to all animals, but dog are probably most susceptible because of their tendency to taste everything. Even a tablespoon of the liquid can be toxic or fatal to a small dog, depending of the size of the animal and the concentration of the product. Cats are less likely to lap up unknown liquids, but they can walk through puddles of antifreeze on the floor, and then lick the chemical off the fur or feet. Even a teaspoon can be fatal to a cat.
Although newer, pet-safe coolants are now available that contain propylene glycol or have an added bittering agent to offset the desirable taste, the traditional type of antifreeze with ethylene glycol remains the predominant coolant on the market.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Antifreeze poisoning in pets progresses in three stages. First symptoms can appear within 30 minutes, and involve an appearance of drunken behavior with stumbling, staggering, vomiting, extreme thirst and frequent urination. Some animals just go to sleep, so the owners are unaware that the poisoning has occurred. At the end of the first stage, the symptoms improve and the animal seems to have recovered, but during this second stage heart rate and breathing speed up. The third and final stage is unfortunately the period when problems are typically noticed; this stage progresses quickly to kidney damage, kidney failure, and coma. Signs of kidney failure include severe depression, vomiting, and diarrhea; the kidneys stop producing urine, and toxins build up in the body. Unfortunately, by the time most animals show these signs of antifreeze poisoning, itís often too lat to effectively intervene.
What to Do
Antifreeze poisoning is a serious emergency that requires immediate intensive veterinary care. If you even suspect that your pet might have gotten into some antifreeze, rush him to the vet right away. If veterinary care is not immediately available, you can try to induce vomiting. The prognosis depends on the interval between ingestion and treatment. Most dogs will recover if treated within the first eight hours; most cats will recover if treated within the first four hours.
At the Vet’s Office
If the pet has not vomited, vomiting will be induced and activated charcoal administered. followed by intravenous fluid solutions. Additional treatment depends on the stage of the disease. If your pet is not in kidney failure, the vet will give drugs to stop the metabolism of ethylene glycol into its more toxic components, or will directly remove the ethylene glycol and metabolites from the body.
Adapted from Deadly Daffodils, Toxic Caterpillars by Christopher P. Holstege, M.D. and Carol Turkington (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006)