Antifreeze Safety and Your Pet

The topic of antifreeze and pets is being republished by your Shawnee veterinarian Dr. Regehr. She originally presented this piece in early 2013 following an interview with Fox 4 news regarding the dangers of antifreeze and pets.

Antifreeze is so dangerous for two reasons.  Many products have a very sweet taste and it takes such a small amount to cause life threatening illness.  A cat only needs to ingest 1 teaspoon and a 20 pound dog 3 tablespoons to die from anti-freeze ingestion if treatment isn’t sought right away.

Car coolant is 95-97% ethylene glycol which is the toxic component.    Antifreeze causes three stages of disease which span the course of about 3 days.  The toxicity is only treatable in the first stage.

  • Stage 1: Drunken and disoriented behavior within 30 minutes to 4 hours after exposure. You might see that your pet has bright red gums that are normally pink.  This can be followed by a return to completely normal behavior in a few hours.
  • Stage 2: After 24 hours the cardiovascular system becomes affected.
  • Stage 3: Irreversible kidney failure possibly accompanied by an inability to urinate, seizures and coma.

There are two types of test for antifreeze toxicity.  The in clinic test is designed for dogs but can be used on cats.  However, we can get an incorrect negative test on cats as there is an minimum ingestion amount needed to turn the test positive.  This test is best done on the same day as ingestion.  As well, we can send a specific blood level out for testing to a human lab.

There are two treatment options once your pet has stage one signs.  There is a medication we call 4MP (Fomepizole) that can been administered over a three day period intravenously.  As well, ethyl alcohol can be administered intravenously but must be monitored closely for associated clinical signs.  Giving your pet oral ethyl alcohol at home will not treat antifreeze toxicity. Your pet would be hospitalized for 3 days with close monitoring of kidney values and cardiovascular status.

If your pet has been observed ingesting antifreeze and you seek immediate treatment within 30-60 minutes, we can induce vomiting and give activated charcoal to absorb residual toxin in the stomach.

Unfortunately once your pet reaches stage 2 the prognosis is poor and with stage 3 not-survivable.  There is good news in all this.  In 2013 laws changed so that all newly sold and distributed anti-freeze in the 50 states will have a bittering agent added so that it no longer tastes appealing.  Be aware that many people will still have traditional, sweet tasting, antifreeze in their vehicles and garages.  Toxicity can still happen.

How can you prevent toxicity?  Keep all antifreeze containers sealed and on high shelves in your garage.  Check under your car periodically for leaks.  Also, note if there are small puddles under parked cars on your street.  Has your neighbor been working on their car in their driveway?  Having your pet on a leash can prevent street side exposure.  This is harder for free roaming dogs and indoor/outdoor cats.  Although rare, intentional poisoning can happen.  We suggest you be the best pet neighbor you can be by not leaving your pet to bark outside, wander your neighborhood or use other people’s yards for their bathroom breaks.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to antifreeze seek immediate care night or day.  After hours in the Kansas City area contact Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Hospital or VCA Mission.


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