During the autumn and winter we often need to use antifreeze and similar products due the very cold weather. However these substances, which contain ethylene glycol, seem to be quite palatable for animals and they will fairly readily consume them, often with disastrous consequences. Pet owners should ensure that these products are stored well out of reach of pets and in secure containers.
For those of us who own a car it is difficult to imagine being able to get through the winter without using antifreeze and similar products at some point. Products such as these usually contain a chemical called ethylene glycol which is highly toxic for pets.
Dogs and even cats will drink antifreeze fairly readily and the consequences can often be fatal for them. The incidence of such poisoning in domestic pets increases during the autumn, winter and early spring and this reflects the period of time when people are using antifreeze most frequently.
The first signs of ethylene glycol poisoning are similar to those of alcohol consumption, with dogs or cats becoming unable to walk properly and showing a general loss of balance; vomiting and depression may also be seen. Affected animals sometimes drink more water than normal and urinate excessively. If the animal has ingested a large amount of antifreeze it may die at this stage, but more often they appear to recover from the initial poisoning. However, damage to the kidneys due to the ethylene glycol will almost certainly follow and many animals die at a later stage from renal failure.
It is often difficult for vets to diagnose ethylene glycol poisoning, since unless the animal is actually seen ingesting the product, the diagnosis must be made on the history and signs alone, and these may or may not necessarily indicate poisoning as the most likely cause. Often the pet is only presented to the vet when renal failure is apparent and by this time the prognosis is often very poor.
Prompt treatment of affected animals offers the best chance of a successful outcome- the longer the problem goes untreated the more severe the problem becomes and the more likely the animal is to die. Vets can treat the poisoning caused by ethylene glycol with emetics to make the animal vomit, if the substance was ingested less than two hours before arriving at the surgery, (after this time the substance is most likely to have passed through the stomach), intravenous fluids can be given to help flush the poison through the kidneys and treatment with substances such as ethanol may also be given along with any other specific treatment required. If animals recover from ethylene glycol poisoning it is very important to take great care of them during the recovery period and monitor them carefully while their kidneys recover.
It is most important that during cold weather, when these products are in use, that animal owners and keepers prevent their pets gaining access to these very toxic substances. Always store antifreeze products in "pet proof" containers, preferably in an area to which your pet is denied access.