Antifreeze – a winter threat to our pets

1st December 2017


Antifreeze is very dangerous to dogs, cats, rabbits and wildlife. It contains ethylene glycol and is used to prevent water freezing in car radiators, motor oils and hydraulic brake fluid.

Poisoning often occurs in winter when an animal comes across an antifreeze leak from a car radiator. Dogs typically lick the fluid off the ground whilst cats are more likely to walk through it and lick their paws.

The toxic chemical in antifreeze is ethylene glycol. It takes as little as 1 tablespoon to cause acute kidney failure in dogs. About 5 tablespoons can kill a medium sized dog, and just 1 teaspoon can be fatal to a cat.


There are three stages of antifreeze poisoning.

Stage 1 – this takes place within the first 12 hours. Symptoms include;

  • A staggering drunken appearance
  • Drooling from the mouth
  • Fitting
  • Excessive drinking from taps, bowls and puddles
  • Excessive urination
  • Vomiting
  • Panting

Stage 2 - after the first 12 hours the initial symptoms often subside and owners think their pet is getting better, but sadly severe internal damage is taking place.

Stage 3 - acute kidney failure develops. You’ll notice bad breath, a loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea. Often the animal will have a rapid heart rate and may start fitting. If left untreated the animal will quite likely die.


Antifreeze poisoning in pets can be easily avoided.

  • Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and safely stored
  • Clean up any leaks or spills immediately
  • Dispose of empty or used antifreeze containers properly
  • Don’t let your pets roam unsupervised where they might come in contact with antifreeze
  • Use antifreeze products containing propylene glycol, which is safer than ethylene glycol


How do we diagnose antifreeze poisoning?

Blood and urine tests are used if we suspect a history of contact with the chemical. The most common time of year is now during the winter months.


Treatment options for antifreeze poisoning

At Bollington Veterinary Centre, if we see an animal within the first few hours of swallowing antifreeze, vomiting can be induced and charcoal may be given to bind any antifreeze that has travelled beyond the stomach into the intestines. This is important as antifreeze becomes even more toxic as the liver breaks it down.

The treatment and prognosis depends on how quickly the animal receives veterinary treatment. We need to take action as soon as possible for this to be effective. The quicker you get your pet to us the better the chances of survival.


Call us immediately

Unfortunately, most animals that have swallowed antifreeze but don’t receive veterinary care go into kidney failure and die. The message to take home is don’t delay! If you suspect your pet may have licked or swallowed antifreeze, call us straight away.