This HOW TO was originally published in September 2011. In December 2012, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and Consumer Specialty Products Association announced that a bitter flavoring agent will be added to all antifreeze and engine coolants manufactured and sold in the U.S. Currently only 17 states have laws requiring the bittering agent: Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) poisoning is one of the most common forms of poisoning in small animals because antifreeze can be found in almost every home.
“Over 10,000 dogs are poisoned with automotive antifreeze each year,” according to vetinfo.com.
Peteducation.com lists a few common sources of ethylene glycol, such as antifreeze, solvents, rust removers, film processing solutions and taxidermist’s preservation solutions.
Ethylene glycol is a syrupy toxin that makes antifreeze so lethal that it takes less than three ounces (or 88 ml) of antifreeze to poison a medium-sized dog. Most dogs end up ingesting more than that by the time they start to recognize antifreeze’s strange aftertaste.
What Causes Antifreeze Poisoning?
According to petmd.com, “Antifreeze poisoning typically happens when antifreeze drips from a car’s radiator, where it is licked off the ground and ingested by a pet. Your dog may also come into contact with antifreeze that has been added to a toilet bowl. This occurs in homes where the residents will use antifreeze during the cold months to ‘winterize’ their pipes.”
When Ethylene glycol is metabolized by the liver it can cause damage your dog’s organs, and is especially toxic to their kidneys. Many brands of antifreeze also contain phosphorus rust inhibitors, which may increase the phosphorus levels in the bloodstream, states peteducation.com.
According to petplace.com, there are three stages of poisoning:
- Stage 1: 0-12 hours after ingestion. Nervous system signs including mild depression, ataxia, knuckling, seizures, hyperexcitability, stupor, and rarely coma, and death. These signs are similar to acute alcohol intoxication and resemble drunkenness. Other symptoms may include lack of appetite, vomiting, drop in body temperature, and an increase in drinking and urination.
- Stage 2: 12-24 hours after ingestion. Cardiopulmonary system signs are seen including increased heart rate and respiratory rate.
- Stage 3: 12-72 hours after ingestion. Kidneys are affected. Symptoms include severe depression, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, kidney failure and death.
If you believe that your dog has ingested antifreeze and is displaying any of these symptoms, petmd.com and vetinfo.com recommend that you take him to the vet immediately:
- Drunken behavior
- Wobbly, uncoordinated movement
- Excessive urination
- Rapid heartbeat
- Increased thirst
- Seizures/convulsions/shaking tremors
How is Antifreeze Poisoning Diagnosed?
According to petmd.com, “Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your pet, taking into account the background of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. The treatment will also be based on the medical history presented by you, so you will need to be as detailed as possible.”
Tests to be considered include the following:
Peteducation.com states, “Tests for ethylene glycol poisoning are not perfect. Urine may be examined for the presence of calcium oxalate crystals, which may be seen even in the first stage of poisoning. However, these crystals may be seen in normal, healthy animals also. In an ethylene glycol poisoning, once crystals are found in the urine, kidney damage has already begun.”
There is a test kit that is available for dogs that can detect ethylene glycol, but not its metabolites. It is only useful if it is administered within 1 to 4 hours after you dog has ingested the toxin.
“Before or after that time period, a false negative test result may be obtained since either the ethylene glycol has not yet entered the bloodstream, or it has already been broken down into its metabolites. To perform the test, various chemicals are added to a blood sample and if ethylene glycol is present, a color change occurs,” peteducation.com states.
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Antifreeze Poisoning?
If you are positive that your dog has ingested antifreeze, you can attempt to help induce vomiting by giving him hydrogen peroxide.
Petmd.com recommends that you administer “one teaspoon per five pounds of body weight, with no more than three teaspoons given at once, spaced apart at 10-minute intervals. If your pet has not vomited after the third dose, stop giving it the hydrogen peroxide solution and seek immediate veterinary attention.”
Be sure to call your vet before trying to induce vomiting, as some poisons will do more damage coming up back through the esophagus than they did going down.
Petmd.com advises that you do not induce vomiting if your dog is unconscious, is having trouble breathing or is exhibiting signs of serious distress or shock:
“Whether your pet vomits or not, after the initial care, you must rush him to a veterinary facility immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to safely administer antidotes to the poison, such as activated charcoal to prevent further absorption of the toxin, and 4-methylpyrazole, which can effectively treat antifreeze poisoning, if given shortly after the consumption of antifreeze. Your dog may need to be held in intensive care to prevent kidney failure.”
How is Antifreeze Poisoning Prevented?
Petmd.com advises that pet parents follow these steps to help prevent their pooch from being poisoned.
- Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored out of the reach of pets.
- Take care not to spill antifreeze, and if it is spilled, ensure that it is immediately and thoroughly cleaned up.
- Dispose of used antifreeze containers properly.
- Check the radiator of your car regularly, and repair leaks immediately.
Do not allow your dog to wander unattended where there is access to antifreeze (e.g., roads, gutters, garages and driveways).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has labeled propylene glycol safe, and it is now used for antifreeze. Look for antifreeze with this ingredient instead, to keep your pet safer from accidental poisoning.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.