Antifreeze’s sweet smell and taste may attract animals, but the toxic substance can be lethal to the curious critters who lap it up. Winter brings with it a deadly risk to pets as drivers add or change their car’s engine coolant. Standard antifreeze is deadly to humans and animals.
A substance in the antifreeze causes kidney failure when the body converts it to a crystal. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can kill a dog or cat. Many pets die or have to be euthanized because owners don’t recognize signs of poisoning until it’s too late. Symptoms sometimes don’t show up for several days after animals have consumed antifreeze. A large number of animals that ingest antifreeze do not recover. By some estimates, 10,000 companion animals die each year from antifreeze poisoning, making the toxin ethylene glycol a serious concern for pet guardians. Animals have six to eight hours after they consume antifreeze for effective treatment; otherwise a slow, painful death is likely. The ideal treatment window is within the first four hours.
Recognizing antifreeze poisoning symptoms is important, because many pet guardians may not immediately realize that their pet has been exposed to the toxin until it’s too late.
Antifreeze poisoning occurs in two phases. In the first phase, the animal typically appears lethargic, disorientated, uncoordinated, and groggy. Symptoms usually appear thirty minutes to one hour after ingestion and can last for several hours.
The second phase, which can last up to three days, is characterized by symptoms such as vomiting, oral and gastric ulcers, kidney failure, coma, and death.
Thousands of pets have suffered this preventable fate, prompting several states, and the federal government, to consider legislation that could drastically lower the incidence of antifreeze poisonings in both humans and animals.
There are two antidotes for antifreeze poisoning. The older treatment is more commonly practiced as it is more economical. An animal is given ethanol, or grain alcohol, via an intravenous drip for two to three days.
Antifreeze is an alcohol which a particular enzyme in the body converts to toxic crystals. By giving the animal ethanol, you tie up the enzyme that converts the antifreeze to a toxin.
Though this treatment requires hospitalization, if treated early with the antidote and supportive care, most animals recover with the only side effect being a hangover from being drunk for three days. The second treatment, a new drug called Antizol, has fewer side-effects but is more costly than ethanol treatment.
Help Prevent Antifreeze Poisoning in Animals
1. If you see an animal ingest antifreeze, don’t wait to see if it gets sick. If an animal has ingested antifreeze, the first thing to do is induce vomiting. Give the animal 1 teaspoon of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide per 5 pounds of body weight. Vomiting should start within 10 minutes. Then get the animal to the vet immediately.
2. There are safe antifreeze solutions. Major antifreeze brands make nontoxic varieties that use propylene glycol rather then ethylene glycol. To be safe, switch to a brand of antifreeze that contains propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.
3. Keep antifreeze sealed and away from animals; clean up spills completely and fix any leaks immediately.
4. Don’t allow your pet to wander unattended near driveways, roads, garages, or other places where she could come into contact with antifreeze.
5. Monitor your pet for strange behavior. If you think she may have ingested antifreeze, take her to a veterinarian immediately.
An animal must be taken to the veterinarian within 12 hours of ingesting antifreeze. After 12 to 24 hours, kidney failure will occur, followed eventually by death.
In freezing weather, the only water that’s not frozen may contain antifreeze. so don’t allow your pet to drink from puddles.