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Pets and the Dangers of Antifreeze

Pets and the Dangers of Antifreeze

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)

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
10:38AM PDT on Mar 16, 2012


12:00PM PST on Mar 2, 2010

Thank you for the article!

8:20AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

I agree something needs to be done to warn animals and children of this deadly toxin! My neighbor loves to use it for reduction of animals, sicko's!

5:58AM PST on Nov 20, 2009

to the chagrin of several in my neighborhood i take care of the feral cats. someone put anitfreeze out for them. unfortunalety a few of the neighbor pets vanished in the same time frame. something really does need to be done to take the "appealing" ones off the market what if my 2 yr old granddaughter had seen that lovely green "gatorade"? i shudder to think

9:43AM PDT on Jun 14, 2009



7:46AM PST on Jan 7, 2009

A friend lost her wonderful chocolate lab in this dreadful painful way. When they called the vet he suggested pouring a bottle of vodka down the throat (of the dog) to make it vomit and act as an antidote and then rush him in to his office. Sadly it was too late and his organs had shut down - all within an hour of ingestion.
Something must be done with this stuff, for the sake of children and pets.

9:54AM PST on Nov 17, 2008

From my understanding, the chemical composition of the swiffer wetjet cleaner is about the same as anti-freeze, so I got rid of mine. Steam cleaners are a much more pet-safe floor cleanser or consider using peroxide instead (I did that until I got my steam cleaner).

11:45AM PST on Nov 16, 2008

Here, in my state of Tennessee, a 12 year old girl got a bill passed, The Haley Ham Act. Her dogs were purposely poisoned by a neighbor with antifreeze. This wonderful child got angry and wanted to make a change.
This is what she lobbied for and won...
Bill Number: TN S.B. 2399 & H.B. 2808
Bill Status: Signed into Law
HSUS Position: Support
Bill Sponsor(s): Sen. Raymond Finney (R, 8) & Rep. Janis Sontany (D, 53)
Legislature Status: Adjourned
Requires all antifreeze containing at least 10 percent ethylene glycol to contain, and be labeled with, a bittering agent.

This is a kid! This is her way of honoring her dogs memories, by saving others.
If she can do it, everyone can get involved.
(And we always use environmentally safe, non toxic antifreeze in our vehicles)

5:44AM PST on Nov 16, 2008

I wonder if some animals get just a minimal dose of antifreeze, by walking thru it. They might sustain some kidney damage, but not show obvious symptoms till they're older.. Just wondering, because I think that's what happened to a cat I rescued..

8:22PM PST on Nov 14, 2008

Thank you for posting this, I always buy the "safer" types of anti freeze, but in my neighborhood, lot's of people are back yard mechanics and I try to b every vigilant about my dogs, but still would not have known exactly what kinds of symptoms to look for if they were to ingest some antifreeze

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