Antifreeze: The Green Death
When winter approaches, many people get their vehicles prepared by changing the antifreeze, but many may not realize how dangerous contact with antifreeze can be for your pet. Antifreeze poisoning is one of the most common and deadly toxicity seen in dog patients. The toxic ingredient in antifreeze is ethylene glycol, ingestion of less than 2 ounces is potentially fatal for a 25-pound dog. Unfortunately, dogs are attracted to antifreeze spills by its sweet smell and taste.
When an animal swallows antifreeze, the ethylene glycol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. After absorption, the ethylene glycol is changed into several other chemicals by an enzyme in the liver, alcohol dehydrogenase. Among these substances produced by the liver's metabolism of ethylene glycol are oxalic acid, glycolic acid, glyoxalic acid and glycoaldehyde. These chemicals are highly toxic to the animal's kidneys, and can result in the death of kidney cells. If a high enough dose of ethylene glycol is consumed, fatal and irreversible kidney failure results.
This first signs of antifreeze poisoning are neurologic in nature resulting from the direct effects of the ethylene glycol. Affected dogs may be lethargic, uncoordinated and vomiting. Owners often describe the dog as "acting drunk." These signs generally resolve within 12 hours after ingestion of the antifreeze, and the animal may have appeared to "recovered." Signs of renal failure develop 24 to 48 hours after ingestion. The dog will become very depressed, possibly even comatose. Seizures and vomiting may be seen.
Treatment of antifreeze poisoning involves supporting kidney function with fluid therapy and administering medications that reduce the metabolism of ethylene glycol by the liver. The key to successful treatment is early recognition. Treatment must begin in the first few hours after the animal consumes the antifreeze in order to prevent the irreversible kidney failure from developing. Unfortunately, most animals with antifreeze poisoning are not taken to a veterinarian until they have been "sick for a day or two." At that point, treatment may be unsuccessful. It is essential to take your dog to the veterinarian if you believe there is even a chance that he may have consumed antifreeze. Don't wait until he begins to act ill!
The bottom line with antifreeze poisoning is prevention. When changing the coolant in your vehicle, clean up all antifreeze spills immediately. Be sure the antifreeze container is securely closed and out of reach. Address a leaking radiator immediately, before it causes the tragic death of a family pet. Sierra is a relatively non-toxic antifreeze that contains propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Consider using this type of antifreeze if your pets have access to the areas where vehicles are stored.
Antifreeze may also be found in snow globes (the glass balls with water, snow and scenes inside). Take extra care to make sure snow globes do not break where your pet has access to lick or consume the material found inside.