Many household items are most likely toxic to dogs and cats (see also toxins). Antifreeze poisoning is one of the most problematic toxic products for a number of good reasons:
- Antifreeze is typically replaced by do-it-yourself mechanics who may allow the coolant to drain into the street where family pets can drink it.
- Antifreeze has a sweet taste that dogs and cats like.
- Antifreeze is a potent poison that can cause kidney problems and even death.
- In northern climates, antifreeze poisonings are more common around those times when automotive coolant is replaced: generally fall, winter, and early spring.
Antifreeze is the automotive coolant used in the radiator of your vehicle. Almost all brands contain ethylene glycol, which is a potent toxin.
Automotive coolants typically include the chemical ethylene glycol. This chemical is comparable in structure to alcohol, so that signs of intoxication are similar to those of drunkenness. Poisoned dogs or cats may regurgitate and show nervous system signs, such as staggering and tiredness. They tend to drink and urinate large amounts. Within a few hours of consumption, resultant effects of ethylene glycol produce crystals that trigger kidney damage as the body tries to eliminate them. Kidney damage can be severe and life-threatening, even after ingestion of only a few teaspoons of antifreeze.
Treatment for antifreeze poisoning needs to be instituted as soon as possible, so you should bring your pet to the veterinarian right away if you suspect that it has drunken antifreeze. Treatment is quite often begun based on wariness of antifreeze poisoning, without being able to verify it. Your vet may perform a blood test for ethylene glycol, but this is only effective when a fairly substantial amount has been drunk. Your vet may also check the urine with an ultraviolet light, because some types of antifreeze fluoresce, although this test is not constantly accurate. Blood and urine tests are needed to monitor the status of the kidneys, as well as to look for suspicious crystals in the urine.
If anitfreeze poisoning occurred within the past few hours, the vet may encourage vomiting or flush the stomach in an effort to remove unabsorbed coolant. Intravenous fluids are given to keep your pet well hydrated and to flush the kidneys. A special drug can be injected to decrease the formation of crystals, thus saving the kidneys from considerable damage. This drug is ineffective in cats, so alcohol is used as an alternative. Alcohol competes with the ethylene glycol for metabolism, thereby reducing the development of crystals. These treatments are more reliable if administered in just a few hours of ingestion, before serious kidney damage has occurred.