It’s that time of year when there is a chill in the air, the leaves change color, and we are out enjoying the crisp fall weather with our furry friends. As the cooler weather comes, people start preparing their cars for the cold weather ahead. Anti-freeze is a common household chemical kept in the garage and used in vehicles to keep radiators cool without freezing.
Ethylene glycol is a sweet tasting, odorless, liquid used that makes up nearly 95% of car antifreeze, and is in lesser harmful quantities in hydraulic brake fluid, windshield de-icing fluid, motor oil, and other products.
Dogs can be attracted to the sweet smell and drink it from the container or lick spots if spilled on the driveway or street. Cats can walk through the spilled liquid and lick the antifreeze from their paw. There is a very small range of margin of toxicity with ethylene glycol, which means that only a small amount of ethylene glycol is needed to cause illness or death.
Within 30 minutes of ingestion animals can exhibit signs of incoordination, lethargy, vomiting, excessive urination, low body temperature, seizures, or coma. Some of these signs may resolve 12-24 hrs after exposure, which may make owners feel that the pet is improving. During this time the pet’s heart rate and respiratory rate may increase. Never wait to bring your pet in as time is of the essence, especially with ethylene glycol treatment. Patients need to be treated within 8-12 hrs of ingestion of ethylene glycol. Left untreated they may die.
The best way to prevent this toxicity is to keep cats indoors, store antifreeze well and away from pets, and keep your pets leashed and away from spills on the ground.
If you are ever concerned about possible exposure to your pet please call your veterinarian immediately or the emergency veterinary hospital during overnight hours.
Dr. Laura Tancredi, DVM