Antifreeze poisoning is common in small animals, and this is because it is a very common household product. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol which is the ingredient that makes it toxic. This toxic ingredient effects the brain, liver, and kidneys.
Toxicity commonly occurs if the antifreeze is dripping from your car’s radiator, many animals will lick it up off the ground. Some people also place antifreeze into toilet bowls to prepare their pipes for freezing temperatures, and a lot of animals, both dogs and cats, enjoy drinking from toilets. It does not take a large amount of antifreeze to kill an animal. Less than three ounces of antifreeze is enough to kill a medium size dog. Ethylene glycol is also found in engine coolant and hydraulic brake fluid.
Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include but are not limited to stumbling, euphoria, wobbling, nausea, vomiting, excessive urination, oral ulcers, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, depression, weakness, seizures, convulsions, shaking, tremors, fainting and going into a coma. All of these symptoms should always be taken seriously and a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.
When at the vet with an animal who is suspected to have ingested antifreeze, the veterinarian will want to perform a full physical exam. They will also want to run bloodwork in order to get a complete blood count as well as to check organ function. The veterinarian will also want to do a urinalysis. Treatment will also be done based on the history of the animal and a lot of information provided by the owner. This information can include how long ago the ingestion occurred, as well as how much was ingested.
The first thing that would happen treatment wise is the veterinarian will give your animal a medication that will make them vomit. This will hopefully get most of the ethylene glycol out of the system. After making the animal vomit, the veterinarian will frequently want to give activated charcoal, which absorbs toxins out of the body. They will likely also want to place the animal on intravenous fluid therapy in order to help flush toxins out of the body. Ingestion of this toxin is very serious and often fatal, a lot of supportive care and medications may be needed. The animal will also need very careful monitoring and frequent checks by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will want to continuously recheck blood and urine values in order to monitor if the toxins are affecting the body. If the animal is treated quickly after ingestion, they can recover fully. Unfortunately, many animals are not treated as quickly and therefore go into kidney failure from this.
In order to prevent this awful toxicity from occurring with your beloved pets, there are a few safety measures that can be taken. First of all, always keep antifreeze containers well sealed and stored out of reach of pets. Try to never spill it, and if there is a spill make sure it is cleaned up right away. Dispose of old containers of antifreeze carefully and properly. Do not let your animals wander unattended where antifreeze could be (garages, roads, etc. ). Check the radiator of your car regularly, if there is a leak it should be repaired as soon as possible. Propylene glycol has been labelled as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration. This is now being used in some antifreezes. When purchasing antifreeze, it is recommended to look for a brand that uses this ingredient instead of the toxic one.
If your pet ingests antifreeze please contact your veterinarian immediately.
Written by Mikaila Cariou RVT