Antifreeze Poisoning

Antifreeze is highly toxic, particularly to cats, warns veterinarian Zoe Shelton-Smith

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When we talk about poisonings in our pets, we often refer to certain foods like onions or raisins being toxic but it’s important to know, as we head into the colder months, that antifreeze is a common poison we see in veterinary practice. Antifreeze, or more specifically ethylene glycol, is highly toxic, particularly to cats. 

What makes this a problem is that cats are prone to drinking water contaminated with antifreeze. This is because, as cat owners will know, cats like drinking from puddles or ponds. Antifreeze is found in car radiators and some screen washes, as well as some inks and even snow globes. What adds to the problem is that antifreeze doesn’t taste bad to cats but, rather, it tastes sweet with just one teaspoon being enough to kill a cat. 

Signs of antifreeze poisoning in cats appear between 30 minutes and 8 hours after ingestion. These include:

1. Vomiting
2. ’Walking drunk’
3. Lethargy
4. Difficulty breathing
5. Twitching eyes and muscles
6. Seizures

If you suspect antifreeze poisoning, you need to contact your vet straight away. The fatality rate from a report involving 25 cases was 96% while another study had 197 cases out of 213 prove fatal. The sooner veterinary attention is sought, the greater the chance of survival but often kidney damage is too quick and too severe, resulting in many cats needing to be put to sleep.

So if you are using antifreeze or any product containing ethylene glycol make sure it is stored away properly and that any spillages are cleaned up straight away. It’s advised that if you have ponds or water features that you refrain from adding antifreeze to keep your cats protected.  There is a much safer alternative for pets and wildlife available called propylene glycol.

The RSPCA campaign each year to raise awareness of antifreeze poisoning and remind that intentional poisoning is a criminal offence and the maximum penalty is up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a £20,000 fine.

If you have any concerns or questions regarding antifreeze poisoning or toxins in general, then please get in touch with your vet. 

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