During cold snaps, antifreeze poisonings become increasingly common. These typically occur when ethylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in antifreeze, leaks from car radiators or screen wash containers. This chemical is extremely toxic to dogs and, to exacerbate the problem, it’s also very sweet so they like the taste.
How much antifreeze will kill a dog?
Any amount is dangerous, even if it’s found in contaminated water such as puddles, but just a tablespoonful is potentially fatal. If you suspect your dog has drunk antifreeze then you should call your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic, straight away. If your dog is treated immediately after exposure they will have a far better chance of survival. Your dog may well need intensive treatment, but be warned, the survival rate for antifreeze poisoning is low if the kidneys have been badly damaged.
Ethylene glycol can also be found in:
- windscreen de-icer
- brake fluid
- liquid rust inhibitors
- hydraulic fluids
- ornamental fountains
- decorative snow globes
- some solvents and paints
Antifreeze poisoning symptoms
Once drunk ethylene glycol is rapidly absorbed into the body. Within hours it can cause severe kidney damage which is very difficult to treat.
There are three stages of antifreeze poisoning. The first sign you’ll see, within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion, is likely to be wobbliness or falling over as if drunk. The back and kidney area can also be very painful, there may be vomiting and your dog may be thirsty. They may also urinate frequently.
Between 12 and 24 hours after ingestion, your dog may appear to recover from the immediate symptoms, only to worsen again as the ethylene glycol works its way through his body. After 36 hours severe acute kidney failure occurs. Symptoms of this include lack of appetite, diarrhoea, drooling, halitosis, seizures and collapse.
The length of time it takes for all of these symptoms to appear can vary depending on how much your dog has drunk.
Antifreeze poisoning treatment
There is an antidote for ethylene glycol poisoning called fomepizole (also known as 4-MP). It’s expensive but effective when administered to dogs within the first 8-12 hours of ingestion. If your dog is not unconscious, struggling to breathe, or showing signs of serious distress or shock, your vet may also induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal to absorb the toxins.
If you’re worried your dog has swallowed antifreeze, please contact your vet as soon as possible, or find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital.
How can I protect my dog from antifreeze poisoning?
With such a lethal product, prevention is key. If you are using antifreeze or any product containing ethylene glycol be very careful where you store it and if you spill any clear it up immediately. You should also keep a close eye on your car radiator.
If you have an ornamental garden pond don’t add antifreeze in the winter time. It may keep your fountains running in a cold snap, but could risk the lives of dogs and cats coming into contact with it.
Is there an alternative to antifreeze?
Antifreeze is one of the most life-threatening poisonings that vets see, but there is some hope as there is a safer alternative. While propylene glycol antifreeze is more expensive, it’s safe for pets and other wildlife, so please consider using this instead.