There is so much information on the web about antifreeze and the danger it poses to our beloved pets when they are exposed to it. In our feline friends, one teaspoon of antifreeze is extremely toxic, and if left untreated can be deadly. Understanding how your cat may be affected if they are exposed to antifreeze is crucial because prompt identification will lead to the swift treatment of this life-threatening condition.
If you suspect your cat has ingested antifreeze, this is a life-threatening emergency! Seek veterinary attention immediately.
What Is Antifreeze Poisoning?
Ethylene glycol, the main ingredient found in antifreeze, is what makes it toxic to cats. Ethylene glycol makes up about 95% of the antifreeze compound. Most antifreeze agents used to have a sweet taste, which was thought to be the reason why cats were attracted to it. Most antifreeze products now have a bitter taste, to help reduce their interest in it. Dehydration may be another reason why cats are attracted to antifreeze. If they are thirsty they are going to look for a way to hydrate. Finally, some cats may be unaware that they have stepped in the poisonous substance, and before the owner knows it, they have already licked the toxin off of their paws.
It is important to note that antifreeze is not the only source of ethylene glycol. It is found in brake fluid, ballpoint pen and ink, printers and stamp pad ink, eye masks, and even snow globes. A cat only needs to get a hold of a small amount from any of these items to cause significant damage.
Symptoms of Antifreeze Toxicity:
Antifreeze toxicity affects the nervous system and the kidneys. Clinical signs are typically seen during the first few hours of ingestion, and may include vomiting, depression, ataxia (drunken walk), increased drinking and urination (PU/PD). As the condition progresses, there will be metabolic and electrolyte disturbances, crystals in the urine, marked dehydration, renal failure, and eventually death.
If you believe your pet has been exposed to antifreeze, even in small amounts, this is a medical emergency! Please bring your pet to your veterinarian for care. It will be helpful if you can bring the container of antifreeze and if you have an idea of the amount they may have ingested. Treatment for cats needs to begin within the first hour to give them the best chance of survival.
Do not try to induce vomiting at home unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian or animal poison control.
Treatment for Antifreeze Toxicity
Cats will most likely need to be hospitalized for several days. The goal of treatment is to prevent further absorption of ethylene glycol and to promote the removal of the toxic substance from the body. The hallmark of treatment is aggressive intravenous fluid therapy followed by medication to help correct the metabolic disturbances that may develop. Induction of vomiting and gastric lavage are only recommended when the toxin is ingested within 30 minutes. Do not induce vomiting at home without instruction by your veterinarian or animal poison control. Time is of the essence when treating this condition. The sooner treatment begins the better the prognosis. If left untreated, renal failure followed by death will occur.
Preventing Antifreeze Toxicity
- If you have antifreeze products in your home, make sure they are placed in an area that your cat cannot access and that the lids are on tightly.
- Look for products that have a bitter additive. Having a bitter additive will hopefully deter cats from drinking the substance or licking it off of their paws.
- Consider using antifreeze options that contain propylene glycol, a safer alternative to ethylene glycol. It does not cause kidney damage, however, it is not free of toxic effects if ingested.
- Check your car’s radiator for any leaks. This will help prevent exposure to the toxic substance.
- Make sure your cat is well hydrated, so they aren’t seeking out ways to hydrate themselves.
- Make sure you store items containing ethylene glycol, like ink pens and snow globes, out of a cat's reach.
- "Ethylene Glycol Sources, Signs And Treatment". ASPCA Professional, https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/ethylene-glycol-sources-signs-and-treatment.
- "Overview Of Ethylene Glycol Toxicity - Toxicology - Veterinary Manual". Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/ethylene-glycol-toxicity/overview-of-ethylene-glycol-toxicity.
- Bellows, Jan, DVM, DADVC. "Antifreeze Additives That Are Taste Aversive To Protect Dogs And Cats - Veterinary Partner - VIN". Veterinarypartner.Vin.Com, 2013, https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=6047934.