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Antifreeze Poisoning in Pets

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Minnesota winters are cold! Frigid temperatures mean an increased risk of pets being exposed to toxic substances like antifreeze. There are three different types of antifreeze solutions on the market: methanol, propylene glycol, and ethylene glycol. All three of these have the risk of being toxic to your pets, but ethylene glycol is the most lethal. Here’s the breakdown of what pet owners need to know about each of these types of antifreeze:

1. Methanol

Methanol is a common component in windshield wiper fluid. If ingested by humans, this toxin can lead to retinal damage and blindness. Fortunately, cats and dogs do not suffer the same consequences from ingestion. In pets, most small exposures will cause mild upset stomach. If large amounts are consumed, pets can become depressed and lethargic. For the typical fluid, containing 30% methanol, a dog would need to drink about 1 oz per kilogram, or about one cup for a twenty-pound dog.

2. Propylene Glycol

Antifreeze with propylene glycol is marked as a “safer” type of antifreeze. Cats are somewhat more sensitive, but both cats and dogs would need to drink large amounts of propylene glycol for poisoning to occur.

3. Ethylene Glycol

In contrast to the other two types of antifreeze, it only takes a small amount of ethylene glycol to poison your dog, and even less to poison your cat – just two tablespoons for a ten-pound dog and one teaspoon for a cat. The sweet taste and smell can be very enticing for pets, so always keep it securely stored!

In addition to antifreeze, ethylene glycol can also be found in a number of household items including paints, ink pads, and pens. Decorative snow globes can also contain ethylene glycol so be careful if one breaks!

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Treatment

Seek immediate veterinary care if you suspect your pet ingested any source of antifreeze. For both propylene glycol and ethylene glycol, signs of toxicity are seen within 1-6 hours. These signs include vomiting, ataxia/drunken gait, disorientation, and increased thirst and urination. It’s critical to begin treatment within the first four hours of ingestion in cats and within the first eight hours of ingestion in dogs. If not treated quickly, pets can develop seizures and permanent kidney damage – which can be fatal! Treatment often means several days in the animal hospital with medications to prevent the alcohol metabolism.

There is a test that veterinary hospitals can use to check for antifreeze ingestion, but it cannot differentiate between propylene glycol and ethylene glycol. Therefore, you could get a positive result and still not know if your pet is in danger. The veterinarian will need to order a special test at a local human hospital to determine if the toxin is ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. The sample needs to be run within six hours of exposure; otherwise, the toxin is metabolized in the body.

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The best prevention of antifreeze poisoning in pets is to keep bottles stored in secured places such as a high shelf or cabinet in the garage. If a spill does occur, make sure any pets are kept away from the area and then promptly clean-up the spill.

Contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital immediately if you believe your pet got into any source of antifreeze.

Resources:

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