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What to do if your pet ingests ethylene glycol

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"What to do if your pet ingests ethylene glycol"
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Every year, more than ten thousand dogs and cats are accidentally poisoned with antifreeze. Although more cases of antifreeze poisoning are seen in cat and dogs, it is poisonous to all creatures including humans. Antifreeze is the most common cause of poisoning in pets in the United States. The major ingredient that is toxic in antifreeze is ethylene glycol. This toxin makes up at least 95 percent of the antifreeze, making only a sip of it poisonous to pets. Cats however, are four times as sensitive to the poison than dogs.

Antifreeze poisoning can even occur in warm climates because radiator coolant in all climates does contain the toxin ethylene glycol. However, in the north, cases of antifreeze poisoning increases in the fall due to cooling systems and radiators being flushed and refilled. The toxin ethylene glycol is so dangerous to pets because to them it tastes actually sweet. Sometimes cases occur when it is discarded but where a pet can get to it. Other times, pets tend to lick the empty gallon containers or a puddle that forms below a leaky radiator system. The crucial important fact is that pets are like children, they know it's sweet and they are going to seek it out.

This toxin, ethylene glycol, unfortunately has an immediate and long-term affect on the body. It is rapidly absorbed and metabolized once it has been consumed by a pet, creature or human. Peak blood levels often occur within three hours of ingesting this toxin. Usually within thirty minutes after drinking it, you will notice that your pet will act like he or she is drunk. This phase will continue for up to six hours after it was ingested. It will eventually fade and then you might think that your pet is okay, but in reality it's about it get much worst.

Now the ethylene glycol has reached and entered your pet's liver and kidneys, it will be oxidized into more toxic products that acidify the blood and destroy renal tubular cells in their kidneys. Once the kidneys are damaged, they lose the ability to rid the body of waste. There is no treatment that can reverse the damage and sometimes it can be so severe that often times it becomes fatal in the matter of days.


Clinical signs typically depend on how long it has been since your pet drank the antifreeze along with how much of it they actually ingested. Early symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in pets is more like alcohol intoxication. They will vomit usually because of the toxin's irritating effects on their stomach. They will also drink and urinate often, and they may be depressed and wobbly. After 12 hours, you might notice your pet might look like they are recovering but again the toxin is being metabolized by the liver and kidneys.

Typically a day later in cats and two days later in dogs, they will abruptly become much worse. They may become depressed, weak, dehydrated, develop diarrhea, mouth ulcers, rapid breathing and seizures. Their kidneys too are often painful and swollen.


The first thing to consider when trying to treat a pet for antifreeze poisoning is to know how much they have ingested because for those pets that have consumed a lot of the toxin tend not to respond favorably to treatment. This treatment is based on decreasing the absorption of the toxin, ethylene glycol, from the stomach and intestine but also increasing ethylene glycol's excretion through the kidneys.

However, if you suspect that your pet has ingested some or a lot of antifreeze, you should induce vomiting. To induce vomiting you can simply give them three percent hydrogen peroxide. For dogs, it's one to three teaspoons every ten minutes if they haven't vomited within the ten minutes and it can be repeated three times. For cats, its one teaspoon per five pounds of body weight and again you can give it to your cat every ten minutes or until they vomit. Also remember that it can only be repeated three times. After inducing your pet to vomit you should seek out veterinary attention immediately.

The veterinarian may too continue to induce your pet to vomit, perform a gastric lavage, and administer activated charcoal. Gastric lavage is basically stomach pumping or gastric irrigation which just cleans out the contents of the stomach. Activated charcoal is typically used to absorb chemicals which in turn reduces their toxicity not only the entire length of the stomach but as well as the small and large intestines.

Supportive treatment is also given and may include some correcting hydration and the acid-base balance by administering IV fluids and of course sodium bicarbonate. Oxygen is also given only if needed. Sometimes if it's still early they may do a peritoneal dialysis which helps remove the ethylene glycol from the body.

Fomepizole is the antifreeze poisoning treatment choice in dogs. It is typically given intravenously for 36 hours. It basically stops the metabolism of ethylene glycol into its damaging metabolites. Ethanol is the antifreeze poisoning treatment in cats and is given also by intravenously for 64 hours. With either one of these treatments it is essential to treat it early to prevent permanent kidney damage, typically within eight hours of ingesting it. Some veterinarians may refer your pet to a specialized veterinary center for treatment.


Antifreeze poisoning can easily be prevented in pets. If you change your own coolant in your garage or driveway make sure that you discard the old coolant properly. Also if you have a coolant leak, make sure to wash off the concrete under your car until you can get it fixed. Remember never to leave antifreeze laying around either, make sure it's out of the reach of your pets. Brake fluid, liquid rust inhibitors, hydraulic fluids and solar collectors all contain ethylene glycol as well so make sure that they too are stored somewhere your pets cannot get them.

More about this author: Karoline Inong

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