It’s a common misconception that animals such as cats and dogs instinctively know what food is and liquids are safe for them to consume. They do not — especially when it comes to antifreeze. The smell and taste is sweet and often attractive enough for dogs and cats to easily kill themselves after consuming a small amount.
The lethal ingredient in antifreeze is ethylene glycol. According to “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” (Howell Book House; 1995), one teaspoon of antifreeze is enough to kill the average sized cat in 12 to 36 hours after swallowing it. A teaspoon of antifreeze is also strong enough to kill a dog that weighs 20 pounds or less. The smaller the pet, the easier it is for them to be killed by antifreeze.
In both dogs and cats, the first symptoms of antifreeze poisoning is loss of coordination – often described as walking like a drunken sailor. Cats often vomit, become incredibly weak, begin convulsing or go into a coma. After losing their coordination, dogs will become extremely confused, vomit and suddenly collapse.
The big danger is that the kidneys will suddenly shut down. Once they shut down, the dog or cat will soon die. Any dog or cat experiencing these symptoms needs to be taken to an emergency veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Do not wait.
Treatment In Cats
Many cat books recommend getting the cat to vomit if you absolutely know that it’s antifreeze he or she drank. However, the cat will most likely be vomiting already, so this step will most likely be unnecessary. If you happen to catch your cat in the act of drinking antifreeze and the cat has not yet vomited and is not convulsing or unconscious, then induce vomiting by either:
Giving one teaspoon of syrup of ipecac per 10 pounds of the cat’s bodyweight Mix one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide per 5 pounds of the cat’s bodyweight with twice as much water
Get the cat to the vet for intravenous alcohol treatment.
Treatment In Dogs
Many dog health books, such as “The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Dog’s Symptoms” (Villard, 1999) do not recommend getting the dog to vomit. Instead, they recommend giving the dog activated charcoal only if you have it and speed the dog to the vet as quickly as possible for antidotes (usually 4-methylpyrazole) and intravenous drip.
The best way to prevent antifreeze poisoning in pets is not to have them drink it in the first place. Many people are switching to antifreeze that does not include ethylene glycol. But you still need to be sure your dogs do not drink any random puddle in the road when you walk them, especially if the puddle is glistening in rainbow-colors. Cats should be kept indoors so they have no access to car fluids or traffic.
“Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.” Delbert G. Carlson, DVM, et al. Howell Book House; 1995.
“The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Dog’s Symptoms.” Michael S. Garvey, DVM, et al. Villard, 1999.
“Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.” Debra M. Eldredge, DVM, et al. Howell Book House; 2007.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. “Treatment Tips: Ethylene Glycol (Antifreeze.)”