Did you know?
I drove down my street yesterday and caught sight of a tree that was ablaze with color. The yellows and golds glistened in the late afternoon sun. But, the changing colors means summer is officially over and your mental alarm might be going off to start winterizing your vehicle. If your plan includes flushing your radiator and refilling with antifreeze please take caution and clean up any spills. For cats and dogs one or two licks of antifreeze is all it takes for a lethal dose. Cats are four times as sensitive to the poison as dogs. If you suspect antifreeze ingestion, get to your Veterinarian’s office immediately.

Let me tell you why.

The majority of antifreeze products on the market contain 95% Ethylene Glycol, a highly toxic chemical to all mammals and moderately toxic to aquatic animals. Ethylene glycol is also found in windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, hydraulic fluids, film processing solutions, paint solvents, and is used to de-ice airplanes and runways.

Animals are attracted to ethylene glycol because of the sweet taste. The poisoning happens in two stages. At first it may appear that “Lucky” is drunk from the staggering, vomiting, falling down, excessive drinking and peeing, and acting dizzy. These signs usually manifest within the first three to six hours after ingestion and tend not to last long. Then “Lucky” may seem normal and it may appear that you and your four legged friend are out of the woods. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. The second stage of poisoning happens when the body starts to break down the ethylene glycol into other chemicals such as aldehyde, glycolic acid, and oxalate. This stage is dangerous because it can cause severe to fatal damage to the kidneys.

Diagnosis for ethylene glycol poisoning can be tricky. There is a test that was designed specifically for determining ethylene glycol poisoning, but it must be used within 12 hours of ingestion for accurate results. Otherwise, the tests needed for diagnosis include a urinalysis to look for crystals in the urine, and a full blood chemistry panel to look at values related to renal (kidney) function.

Treatment for ethylene glycol poisoning has been helped tremendously with the introduction of 4-Methylpyrazole or 4-MP. 4-MP helps to prevent the second stage of poisoning allowing the animal’s body to eliminate the toxins without causing damage to the kidneys. Dosing for cats is much higher than for dogs and must be administered within 3 hours in order to be effective. For both dogs and cats dosing is usually done over a 36 hour period by IV. Treatment will also include IV fluids with continued monitoring of renal blood values. Prognosis for your animal can range from good to poor or even fatal depending on the amount of ethylene glycol consumed and the time elapsed between ingestion and commencement of treatment.

Of course the best treatment is prevention. Be sure to clean up spills or leaks and store the liquid securely out of reach of your pets. However, there is an alternative antifreeze on the market that uses propylene glycol. Propylene glycol has a less pleasant taste, is biodegradable and does not cause the kidney damage like ethylene glycol. Large amounts of ingestion may still cause anemia and gastro-intestinal upset, but it does not appear to be as potentially fatal. H.R. 615, The Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2009 has also been introduced that would require ethylene glycol manufactures to add denatonium benzoate to ethylene glycol to deter animals from ingesting the toxic substance.

The moral of the story…don’t let car maintenance become a tragedy.