Poisoning and toxicity



Antifreeze is widely used over the colder months in screen washes, brake fluid, inks and as a coolant. It is a clear fluid, sweet to the taste, and often dyed a bright colour such as pink or blue. The active chemical in antifreeze is ethylene glycol (also known as ethanediol) which is converted in the body into toxic products that cause kidney damage and low calcium levels. Toxicity occurs from drinking spills, cleaning contaminated fur or when used in water sources.

Ethylene glycol is extremely toxic to cats, dogs and people. However it is also very palatable and cats and dogs will voluntarily ingest it. Cats are more commonly affected as they are more susceptible to the toxin, tend to roam free investigating garages, sheds, and spills, and the poisoning is often fatal. Malicious poisoning are also suspected. Only small volumes are needed to cause toxicity.

Antifreeze causes toxicity in 3 stages. Signs can start from as early as 30 minutes up to 12 hours after ingestion and their time course and severity depend on the amount taken in.

Stage 1

From 30 minutes to 12 hours: Signs of toxicity to the brain including vomiting, weakness, wobbling and convulsions.

Stage 2

From 12 to 24 hours: The heart and breathing rates increase, fluid can build up on the lungs too. There may be a transient period of improvement which can be followed by coma and convulsions.

Stage 3

24 to 72 hours: Signs of kidney damage and failure including weeing far too little, toxins building up in the blood causing malaise and nausea all leading to kidney failure.

Diagnosis relies upon a suggestive history or toxin ingestion along with examination, blood tests and urine examination for crystals that form due to the poisoning. Unfortunately the early signs are often subtle and hard to identify with animals often being diagnosed already in kidney failure.

Treatment is aimed at detoxification, if diagnosed early enough, and aggressive supportive care including fluid therapy, whilst monitoring kidney function. Animals that improve after 10-16 hours of treatment are likely to have a favourable outcome, whereas animals suffering from kidney failure are unlikely to survive.


·         Store antifreeze containing products safely away from child or pet access

·         Be careful when refilling screen wash and brake fluid etc and clear up spills immediately and thoroughly with plenty of adsorbents and flushing with clean water.

·         Do not use antifreeze in ornamental fountains over winter as cats will drink from them

·         Inform others, including non pet owners, of the dangers of antifreeze.

·         Keep an eye out for the early warning signs in your pets, especially cats, over the colder months of the year

·         If at all concerned that your pet could have ingested antifreeze call your vet and get them checked asap.

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