Winter Weather Warning: Antifreeze Dangers

By Joan Eve Quinn, Program Director

Old man winter packs a punch of frigid weather risks for pets and antifreeze poisoning is among the worst of them. Guardian HEALS wants everyone to know that when a pet ingests antifreeze (ethylene glycol or EG) it’s a medical emergency that can result in acute kidney failure and death.

“Time is of the essence! Antifreeze is rapidly absorbed in the pet’s body and causes irreversible damage in hours,” warns Dr. Jason Berg, HEALS Chairman of the Board.

EG is a toxic chemical most commonly used in car radiators. However, it can also be found in some household items, including snow globes, eye masks, inks, and certain paints. Unfortunately, EG has a pleasantly sweet taste and may even create a warm feeling when it’s swallowed. Pets may be attracted to its flavor, because they’re curious, or if their water bowls are frozen over.

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the first signs of antifreeze poisoning occur within 30 minutes to 12 hours and include:

  • “Walking drunk”
  • Drooling
  • Hyper-salivating
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Excessive thirst and urination

Twelve to 24 hours after a dog or cat has gotten into antifreeze, the initial signs appear to resolve, but underlying internal damage continues. Elevated heart rate, increase breathing effort, and dehydration may start to develop.

In cats, the following stage occurs 12-24 hours after getting into antifreeze. In dogs, this stage occurs 36-72 hours after severe kidney failure secondary to calcium crystals forming in the kidneys. Severe lethargy, coma, depression, vomiting, seizures, drooling, and lack of appetite may occur, states the Pet Poison Helpline.

Even a very small amount of antifreeze can be deadly. Because the first signs of toxicity appear to resolve after a while, this serious illness can initially be misdiagnosed or not taken seriously enough. 

According to MSPCA-Angell, cats are more susceptible than dogs. The minimum dose that’s lethal in cats is roughly 3 milliliters (mls) per pound body weight. For dogs, 9-14 mls per pound body weight may cause death. Fatality rates for EG intoxication reported by top veterinary schools range from 44–70% for dogs and 78-96% for cats, states MSPCA-Angell.

Fortunately, you can protect your pets by taking the following steps: 

  • Close all antifreeze containers tightly and keep them out of sight.
  • Be aware of any spills, big or small, and clean them up promptly and completely.
  • Purchase pet-safe antifreeze, which is somewhat safer, but it’s still best to keep pets away from any and all chemicals.  
  • Keep cats safely indoors!
  • Keep dogs on a leash or in a safely fenced-in area.
  • Be aware that pets can easily find antifreeze leaks in parking lots, driveways, and garages, on streets and curbs where cars are parked, and on farms and near garbage dumps.
  • Make sure outdoor pets always have non-frozen water available.

HEALS advises you to learn where your nearest 24/7 veterinary emergency facility is located and keep the phone number handy. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, seek veterinary medical attention immediately. For more information, you can call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. 

Guardian HEALS is one of the best animal charities to donate to. Your donation provides financial help for pets in need of life-saving veterinary care–when their owners truly can’t afford it–right here in your own community.