Unfortunately winter brings the threat of antifreeze (ethylene glycol) which is incredibly toxic to cats. Every year cats become seriously ill or pass away from antifreeze poisoning. It is incredibly important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this poisoning as immediate veterinary attention is imperative to their chance of survival.
Antifreeze is found in car radiators and some car screen washes.
Unfortunately for cats antifreeze has a sweet taste which means animals like cats can be drawn to it. Antifreeze can become accessible to cats after leaks of water coolant or brake fluid, or spillages of antifreeze containing products when filling up the car. Spillages can also get on cats paws and are then licked off.
Sadly a cat only needs to ingest less than a teaspoon of antifreeze for it to be lethal, so any spillages no matter how small must be cleaned up thoroughly as quickly as possible. Once ingested, the toxic effects can occur as quickly as 30 minutes.
Signs of antifreeze poisoning
Ethylene glycol poisoning causes severe acute kidney disease. This is due to crystals forming in the kidney tubes which can not then be removed from the body.
Sings of this are:
Depression / lethargy/ sleepy
Incoordination/ wobbly on feet
Twitching of eyes and muscles
Once the antifreeze is ingested the damage rapidly starts and worsens over several days until the kidneys completely fail. It is incredibly sad but many cats, even with aggressive, prompt veterinary treatment pass away after its ingestion.
Most antifreeze products contain a fluorescent dye and glow under UV light so a UV light can be shone on paws and face etc to see if there is any antifreeze residue on the hair.
What happens if you think your cat has ingested antifreeze?
Phone your vet immediately day or night...DO NOT WAIT AND SEE. The cat has a far greater chance of survival if treated quickly.
If the ingestion has just happened your vet may induce the cat to vomit to try and rid the body of some of the toxins still in the stomach.
The cat needs to go on a drip where they receive intravenous fluids to help support the kidneys. The vet can then give ethanol (alcohol- often vodka!) intravenously. This blocks the antifreeze from damaging the kidneys. This only works if done before the kidney damage happens, this is why immediate treatment from your vet is vital to increase the chances of survival.
Tragically the survival rate is very low if the kidneys have been damaged by the time veterinary treatment is given, and unfortunately these cats often need put to sleep.
How can I help prevent antifreeze poisoning?
It is impossible to totally irradiate this risk if your cat goes outside. Make sure you, family and
neighbours are all aware of the serious risks and are very careful when dealing with the car and antifreeze products. Always clear up spills straight away. Try to avoid using ethylene glycol based antifreeze, propylene glycol based antifreeze is available and safe for pets and wildlife.
Watch out for leaks in your car.
Always store these products very carefully away from animals and dispose of containers properly.