Antifreeze poisoning is one of the most common forms of poisoning in small animals, and this is because it is so commonly found in households. Antifreeze poisoning typically happens when antifreeze drips from a car’s radiator, where it is licked off the ground and ingested by a pet. Your dog may also come into contact with antifreeze that has been added to a toilet bowl. This occurs in homes where the residents will use antifreeze during the cold months to “winterize” their pipes. Even if you do not take this action in your own home, it is something to be aware of when visiting other homes, or when vacationing at a winter residence.
It is the toxin ethylene glycol that makes antifreeze lethal. Because of this, dogs will consume great quantities of ethylene glycol before being repulsed by its aftertaste. By then, it is too late. It does not take a significant amount of ethylene glycol to cause fatal damage to the system; less than three ounces (or 88 ml) of antifreeze is sufficient to poison a medium-sized dog. Antifreeze poisoning affects the brain, liver, and kidneys.
Ethylene glycol is also found in engine coolant and hydraulic brake fluids.
Some common signs of antifreeze poisoning in dogs and cats include:
- Drunken behavior
- Wobbly, uncoordinated movement
- Excessive urination
- Rapid heart beat
- Seizures/Convulsions/Shaking tremors
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your pet, taking into account the background of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile and a urinalysis. Your veterinarian will want to test the vomit or stool, if possible, as it may assist the veterinarian in diagnosing the type of poisoning and expedite your dog’s treatment. The treatment will also be based on the medical history presented by you, so you will need to be as detailed as possible.
For immediate first aid, and only if you are positive that your dog has ingested antifreeze , try to induce vomiting by giving your dog a simple hydrogen peroxide solution — one teaspoon per five pounds of body weight, with no more than three teaspoons given at once. This method should only be used if the toxin has been ingested in the previous two hours, and should only be given three times, spaced apart at 10-minute intervals. If your pet has not vomited after the third dose, stop giving it the hydrogen peroxide solution and seek immediate veterinary attention.
You may want to call your veterinarian before trying to induce vomiting, since it can be dangerous with some toxins; some poisons will do more harm coming back through the esophagus than they did going down. Do not use anything stronger than hydrogen peroxide without your veterinarian’s assent, and do not induce vomiting unless you are absolutely sure of what your dog has ingested. Also, if your pet has already vomited, do not try to force more vomiting.
A final word, do not induce vomiting if your dog is unconscious, is having trouble breathing, or is exhibiting signs of serious distress or shock. Whether your pet vomits or not, after the initial care, you must rush it to a veterinary facility immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to safely administer antidotes to the poison, such as activated charcoal to prevent further absorption of the toxin, and 4-methylpyrazole, which can treat antifreeze poisoning very effectively if given shortly after the consumption of antifreeze. Your dog may need to be held in intensive care to prevent kidney failure.
Living and Management
Dogs that have consumed antifreeze in very small quantity may survive, but will develop kidney failure within days of ingestion. Unfortunately, death due to kidney damage is common among animals that have been poisoned by antifreeze.
Antifreeze poisoning can be easily avoided by following a few simple precautions:
- Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored out of the reach of pets.
- Take care not to spill antifreeze, and if it is spilled, ensure that it is immediately and thoroughly cleaned up.
- Dispose of used antifreeze containers properly.
- Check the radiator of your car regularly, and repair leaks immediately.
- Do not allow your dog to wander unattended where there is access to antifreeze (e.g., roads, gutters, garages, and driveways).
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has labeled propylene glycol safe and it is now used for antifreeze. Look for antifreeze with this ingredient instead, to keep your pet safer from accidental poisoning.