Antifreeze poisoning

Lets face it, winter is here. As much as I was dreading it, I can’t deny it any longer, so the winter boots are out of the storage, along with the snow suits. The shovel is ready in standby. 

The car is winterized. I’m pretty much ready, are you? If you are still in the process, take this as a friendly reminder of how to prevent a possible winter-related intoxication of pets drinking antifreeze. 

Antifreeze is also known as ethylene glycol. It is a syrupy liquid that is usually brightly coloured, either neon green or pink. Antifreeze is odourless and sweet, which makes it attractive to pets. Antifreeze is extremely dangerous to both humans and animals, with cats about four times more sensitive to the poison than dogs. 

The intoxication has two phases. 

First phase of antifreeze intoxication

About 30 minutes after consuming the antifreeze your pet will start to show symptoms that will look as though it has been drinking alcohol. Staggering, confusion and disorientation, excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and listlessness. 

These symptoms last about six hours then it will look as though your pet is recovering, and the symptoms are subsiding.

Antifreeze affects mainly the kidneys, but also the liver, because these are the organs responsible for metabolizing the poison. 

Second phase of antifreeze intoxication

Phase two of intoxication is a result of the permanent failure of kidneys and liver. At this point, your pet will show inability to produce urine, and will present terminal neurological symptoms such as seizures, coma, and eventually death. 

In cats this usually happens 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. In dogs, 36 to 72 hours.

If you suspect that your pet may have ingested ethylene glycol, seek immediate veterinary attention. I can’t stress enough how important it is to treat the pet early, before permanent damage occurs. This is not a ‘wait and see’ condition, because unfortunately, waiting in this case could cost you your pet’s life. 

When you take your pet to the vet, they will perform blood and urine tests to detect the typical changes caused by antifreeze intoxication. They will induce vomiting, perform stomach pumping, and probably feed the pet with active charcoal to try decreasing further absorption of the poison. They will also establish intravenous fluids to increase urine production and excrete as much ethylene glycol as possible. 

The treatment of choice is using the poison antidote. Dogs and cats can only be cured when the poisoning is detected before extensive kidney damage has occurred, hence it so important to rush your pet straight to the vet’s office. 

Prevention is key. Keep your antifreeze on a high shelf in a place not accessible to your pet. Practice routine vehicle maintenance, and keep an eye out for evidence of leaks (greenish pools underneath your car). In case of spilling that might happen when your refill your vehicle's reservoir, immediately clean up the spills 

Switching to a propylene-glycol-based antifreeze, a safer, less toxic, and non-sweet chemical, is a good alternative to ethylene glycol. This is one step that many pet owners take to protect their pets from accidental antifreeze poisoning.

I hope this winter will be nice, warm and safe for all of the pets and pet lovers out there.

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About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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