Cats Antifreeze poisoning in cats

Published on December 30th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin


Antifreeze Poisoning in Cats

Winter is an exceptionally challenging time to be a cat.  The temperature plummets, the ground becomes slick with mud, rain and frost, and there’s little opportunity for sunbathing or chasing birds.  Cats must also contend with man-made hazards.  Certain varieties of blooming seasonal flower are poisonous to them, and will cause a nasty reaction if ingested.  The same is true of the toxic salt used to cure roads of their seasonal slipperiness.

There is one substance, however, which trumps all others when it comes to wintry hazards for your cat is antifreeze.  In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Antifreeze poisoning, the seasonal killer.

Why is antifreeze so dangerous?

Antifreeze is enormously toxic to cats.  If ingested, it will cause huge kidney failure in a matter of moments.  It can be deadly even if taken in in small quantities, but if given the choice, many cats will elect to consume it in larger ones.  But this much is true of many toxic and harmful substances we might keep around the house.  What makes antifreeze so special?

Antifreeze is useful in cars and other such automobiles because it’s liquid even at sub-zero temperatures.  This allows liquid to flow through a set of pipes even when it’s freezing outside.  This property is thanks to a substance known ethelyne glycol.  This is an alcohol derivative which lends antifreeze a sweet flavour.  It’s this sweet flavour which tempts animals into drinking it.

Winter is a particularly risky period where antifreeze is concerned.  Not only is use of the substance more widespread, thanks to freezing temperatures, but seasonal stressors like freeze-thaw cycles can make leaks more common – this results in puddles of antifreeze forming under cars, where cats are fond of sheltering during the season.

How can antifreeze poisoning be treated?

The symptoms of antifreeze poisoning are sudden and severe.   Affected cats will vomit, and stagger about as though drunk (remember, of course, that ethelyne glycol is derived from alcohol).  They may become drowsy, and in some instances they might go into convulsive seizures.

If you should notice any of these symptoms, then it’s vital that you act quickly.  Take the cat to the vet immediately.  They will be treated intensively, and may be given fluid intravenously to help replace lost fluid and to flush the toxins through the system.

Once the substance has been absorbed by the kidneys, then the treatment will move onto managing the symptoms.  With a little bit of haste, and a lot of luck, your cat may survive the ordeal – but a full recovery will require many months of gentle rehabilitation.

The vast majority of cases of antifreeze poisoning, however, will result in death.  The kidney failure, in most cases, will come about three days after ingestion – and be catastrophic.  In such cases, a vet will almost always recommend that the affected cat be euthanized.  And for this reason, it’s important that measures be taken to prevent animals from drinking the substance in the first place.

How can I reduce the risk of antifreeze ingestion?

Antifreeze, like other toxic substances, should be stored in a responsible manner.  Ensure that it is properly labelled, and that it is stored somewhere far beyond the reach of children and animals.  If you should accidentally spill it, then be sure to clean it up immediately.  Similarly, you should check beneath your car during the winter for signs of a leak.  If you should notice a pool of greenish fluid, then you should clean it up, and get the tank repaired immediately.

If you’ve got a water feature in your garden, then you might be tempted to add antifreeze in order to keep the water flowing during winter. Don’t.  This can turn that fountain of yours into a lethal death trap – both for domestic and wild animals.

If you’re thinking of buying antifreeze, then you’ll be pleased to know that there are safer alternatives available. Other forms of antifreeze are free from ethylene glycol, and instead contain a substance known as propylene glycol.  This substance is far less deadly to animals – and it’s even used as an additive in some varieties of dog food.  By using this variety of antifreeze in your car, you’ll enormously reduce the risk that your cat will be poisoned.

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About the Author

Debbie has worked for Beeston Animal Health for a number of years and although generally involved with the marketing these days she has a great deal of knowledge on many things to do with small animals.

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