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Barks & Mewsings

The Trupanion blog

What Should I Do if My Pet Eats Antifreeze? What All Dog and Cat Owners Need to Know

By: Brianna Gunter

A fuzzy brown puppy looks up in the snow

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s never safe for dogs or cats to ingest antifreeze. Unfortunately, antifreeze poisoning in pets is a winter danger that many people are unaware of until it happens. If you witness your dog or cat eating or licking antifreeze, seek immediate emergency veterinary attention as consumption can quickly lead to death or serious internal harm.

In the meantime, it’s always best to be prepared for the unexpected. By taking the time now to learn the dangers of pet antifreeze consumption and what to do if it happens, you can lessen the chances of disaster.

What is antifreeze, and how can it harm your pet?

Antifreeze is a liquid additive that regulates the boiling and freezing points of your engine coolant, preventing car parts from getting rigid and bursting in extreme temperatures (like winter chills). Many people also use antifreeze solutions to prevent freezing in their indoor plumbing. But while antifreeze varieties are usually dyed green, blue, or orange for better human recognition, it’s the ethylene glycol in its base that is known to be sweet-tasting and attractive to animals. Even a little taste can cause harm.

“It’s incredibly dangerous,” says Dr. Natalie Marks, DVM at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. “While five tablespoons are enough to kill a medium sized dog, cats can ingest a fatal amount just from licking their feet after walking through a puddle of antifreeze.”

In addition to being a potentially fatal poison, antifreeze consumption can cause vomiting, seizures, kidney failure, and other serious conditions in cats and dogs.

Signs of antifreeze consumption in pets

Any sign of your pet “seeming off” should be taken as cause for concern. All pet owners should be on the lookout for the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue / malaise
  • Convulsions / seizures
  • Fainting / passing out
  • Acting hyper / delirious behavior
  • Poor coordination, “drunken” appearance
  • Fast heart beat
  • Diarrhea

Depending on how much antifreeze your pet ate and how long it’s been since ingestion, the signs of poisoning can vary greatly in severity.

“In the early stages, pets may act depressed, stumble, have difficulty walking, drink significant amounts of water, urinate excessively, vomit, and even seizure,” Marks says. “In later stages, pets may have a period of false improvement, but then worsen as kidney failure develops. Dogs and cats sink into more depression, have increased episodes of vomiting and then produce less and less urine as the disease progresses.”

Is your pet acting abnormal and you are not sure if they have consumed antifreeze? Contact your veterinarian right away.

What to do if your pet eats antifreeze

If you catch your cat or dog eating or licking antifreeze, or you otherwise suspect they’ve consumed it, you need to act quickly to prevent or limit harm. As Marks notes, timing is everything when it comes to your pet’s recovery.

“See a veterinarian right away,” she says. “If a pet is seen within a few hours of ingestion, we can induce vomiting to remove stomach contents and then give oral activated charcoal by mouth to bind the rest of the antifreeze in the intestines.”

Marks also points out that antifreeze by itself is not very toxic, but if left untreated after consumption it will be processed by the liver into poisonous byproducts.

The bottom line? Only veterinary intervention can help your pet recover in these cases. Do not attempt any home remedies—treat every case of antifreeze consumption in your pet as a medical emergency.

Prevent your pet from consuming antifreeze

When it comes to pet poisoning, the best thing you can do is to prevent your dog or cat from getting access to dangerous substances in the first place.

According to Marks, there are a variety of safety measures pet owners can take to help ensure their four-legged family members don’t have access to antifreeze.

  • Store any new and used antifreeze in a sealed, leak-proof, and chew-proof container that your pet can’t open.
  • Keep antifreeze containers high up and out of reach of your pet.
  • Try to avoid putting antifreeze in toilets. If it is used, make sure the lid is locked down and the door to the bathroom is always closed.
  • Check driveways for any puddles of antifreeze, and clean them up promptly.
  • Dispose of used antifreeze at a service station or designated toxic waste disposal location.
  • Consider using alternative antifreeze products.

For those curious about antifreeze alternatives, these will vary depending on your location and intended use. Take a look at your driver’s manual, and talk with your mechanic or dealership about any antifreeze substitutes that may be available for your car. Even so, always keep any chemicals, plumbing products, or vehicle additives far out of your pet’s reach.

Winter isn’t the only time when pet owners need to be cautious. Check out the Trupanion pet poison prevention guide to learn more about other substances that can be toxic to your dog or cat.

A dog and cat snuggle

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Welcome to the Trupanion blog. A place to celebrate pets, pet health and medical insurance for cats and dogs.

This blog is designed to be a community where pet owners can learn and share. The views expressed in each post are the opinion of the author and not necessarily endorsed by Trupanion. Always consult your veterinarian for professional advice.

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