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A killer lurks in your garage

June 3, 2009
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n1035097795_256968_7530It is estimated that antifreeze is responsible for the poisoning of over 10,000 dogs and cats every year in the US. The toxic ingredient to blame is ethylene glycol, a substance that is found not only in antifreeze, but in radiator coolant, brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, and other automotive liquids. Its sweet-smelling and tasting properties make it attractive to pets, and it doesn’t take much to cause damage. One to two teaspoons can poison a cat, three tablespoons can kill a medium-sized dog.

Because it’s a substance that is used in nearly every motor vehicle on the road, it’s important that pet owners know a few things about antifreeze and its effect on small animals. Here are seven things that you should be aware of:

  • Symptoms vary, depending on how long it has been since the dog drank the antifreeze. They will also depend on how much of the poison they drank.  Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include excessive thirst, diarrhea, panting, vomiting, convulsions, wobbling and increased urination.
  • Initial symptoms mirror those of intoxication.
  • The ethylene glycol can cause an irritating effect on a dog’s stomach, which may cause vomiting.
  • Dogs will urinate and drink excessively. They may be depressed and exhibit signs of poor balance.
  • Dogs drink more because the thirst centers of the brain are stimulated in response to the poison ingestion.
  • While some dogs may appear to look and feel better 12 hours later, it is only because the liver and kidneys are working to metabolize the ethylene glycol. It is common, however, that symptoms return in 24 hours, and are much worse. Things to look for are dehydration, weakness, depression, diarrhea, rapid breathing, mouth ulcers and seizures.
  • If you are certain that your dog has consumed antifreeze, you should attempt to induce vomiting and get him or her to a medical professional immediately.

To prevent a potential tragedy from befalling your furkid switch to a less-toxic propylene-glycol-based antifreeze in your car. Propylene glycol, although not entirely nontoxic, is considerably less toxic than ethylene glycol as it does not cause the liver to produce oxalic acid, a life-threatening substance.  These products do provide an added margin of safety in the event of accidental ingestion. However, it still can cause death if a large amount is ingested. In addition, the metals in your cooling system that corrode or dissolve into your antifreeze can also be harmful. For this reason, always exercise caution when using any type of antifreeze product.

Check the labels of antifreeze containers to see whether it is pet safe, or ask your vet which brands are okay. Disposing of the antifreeze in a sealed container and keeping containers out of reach will ensure your pet will not get sick from antifreeze poisoning.

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