Antifreeze, which contains the toxic substance ethylene glycol, is used as an additive to help cool the engine in your car effectively without allowing that same cooling solution to freeze when the outside temperature dips below zero. It is extremely toxic to animals and only a very small amount can be deadly to both dogs and cats within hours of ingestion. Unfortunately, ethylene glycol itself is a sweet tasting substance that animals will readily ingest, and it is found in more products than just antifreeze. It is found in:
- Aircraft and runway deicing products
- Windshield deicing products
- Motor oils
- Hydraulic brake fluid
- Developing solutions for photography
- Home solar units
- Portable basketball goal post bases
- Even snow globes!
Though ethylene glycol is found in a variety of products, most cases of ingestion occur because of fluids leaking from cars or leaking storage containers. Animals that spend a significant period of time outdoors are at a much higher risk of exposure to this deadly chemical.
Ingestion of as little a tablespoon of ethylene glycol can cause acute renal failure in dogs. In cats as little as a teaspoon can be fatal! Known ingestion occurences of ethylene glycol are life-threatening emergencies, even when there are no signs. Intervention by a veterinarian is crucial to providing your pet with the most effective care and possibility for survival.
There are three distinct stages of poisoning in cases of ethylene glycol ingestion:
Occurs within 30 minutes to 1 hour after ingestion. Your pet may appear intoxicated and experience drooling, vomiting, excessive drinking and/or urination as well as seizure activity in some cases.
Occurs within 12-24 hours after ingestion. At this stage, the previous clinical signs may seem to resolve. Unfortunately this is the stage where the most damage is happening internally.
The third stage of toxicity occurs at different times in dogs and cats. In cats we see this stage at 12-24 hours after ingestion. In dogs, it occurs 36-72 hours after ingestion. At this stage, acute kidney failure has already set in and you will see additional symptoms:
- Decreased appetite
- Potentially even lapsing into a coma.
There is an anecdote for ethylene glycol called fomepazole. It is expensive and can be hard to find so your veterinarian may need to send you to another clinic for treatment. To be effective, the anecdote must be given within 8-12 hours of ingestion in dogs. In cats it is only effective in the first THREE hours! After this time period, ethylene glycol is almost 100% fatal without undergoing an intense procedure called hemodialysis. This is only available at limited sites in the United States. So if you have seen your animal ingest any substance containing ethylene glycol, or even suspect that they have, take them to your veterinarian immediately; it may just save their life!