Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is a product added to car windshield wiper reservoirs and in car radiators to prevent freezing. Antifreeze poisoning occurs when pets lick or drink any of the substance that may have spilled or leaked onto driveways, garage floors or parking lots. You can usually recognize it by the bright green color.
While it may not seem logical that a pet would want to lick a chemical substance, antifreeze actually has a sweet taste. Dogs are a bit more at risk because cats don’t generally have a sweet tooth but if outdoor water sources have frozen over, a pet may resort to drinking from a puddle of antifreeze. Cats who have acquired a sweet tooth from being fed table food will also be at higher risk.
A small amount of antifreeze is all it takes to cause poisoning and the substance is absorbed rapidly by the body.
Signs of Poisoning
A common sign of antifreeze poisoning is that your pet will appear drunk and perhaps have a wobbly gait. There may also be rapid breathing, depression, twitching muscles, diarrhea and increased thirst and increased urination. These symptoms usually then disappear which may lead you to believe your pet is better but the poison is advancing toward causing kidney failure at this point.
The most important step is to get to the veterinarian right away. If poisoning occurs during off-hours and your veterinary clinic doesn’t have emergency services, it’s crucial that you know where an emergency clinic is located or know of another veterinary clinic that does have off-hours emergency care.
If your pet recently swallowed the poison (less than a half-hour ago), induce vomiting to prevent as much of the toxin as possible from reaching the digestive system. Don’t induce vomiting if your pet is having a seizure or is unconscious.
Getting to the veterinarian immediately is truly crucial because if treated soon after ingestion, it may prevent kidney damage.
Keep all antifreeze in sealed containers and wipe up any drips running down the sides. When refilling your car with antifreeze, make sure your pets are kept away. Clean up all spills and don’t leave containers with the caps off, even for a short time because it doesn’t take much to poison a small animal. After cleaning any spills or leaks, pour water over the spot to safely dilute any residue. Routinely check for leaks from vehicles and get them repaired immediately.
There are some safer antifreeze products available made of propylene glycol instead of the toxic ethylene glycol. Check labels before purchasing to ensure you have the safer product.
Make sure outdoor pets have access to water sources that aren’t frozen to reduce the chances that they’ll ingest antifreeze as a substitute.
The safest option is to keep your cats indoors and to supervise your dog when outdoors. If you walk your dog on a leash, pay attention to puddles on the street that might contain toxic substances.
Note: This article is not intended as a replacement for medical care. If you suspect your cat has ingested antifreeze, seek immediate veterinary care.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.