By Ande Johnson, D.V.M.
With winter upon us, the danger of pets ingesting antifreeze cannot be stressed enough. The damage it causes to the kidneys is irreversible. If only a small amount of damage occurs, the animal may survive, but have poorly functioning kidneys for the rest of its life. If the damage is severe, then the animal will die of kidney failure.
Why do they drink it? Antifreeze tastes sweet and is appealing to both cats and dogs. (Incidentally, toddlers also find the taste appealing, and it is no less deadly to humans than it is to animals.) Pets find antifreeze in puddles that have been contaminated by leaking radiators or can drink from pans that have been used to drain radiators. Dogs that love to chew can get ahold of antifreeze jugs and chew on them.
Antifreeze is similar chemically to grain alcohol and the initial effects of antifreeze consumption are similar to alcohol consumption — it makes animals act drunk. They are wobbly, they may stagger and fall down; they act mentally confused or dull. They vomit. If a large amount was consumed, the animal may pass into a coma and die. When smaller amounts are consumed, the animal may seem to recover over the next few days, only to deteriorate as the signs of kidney failure appear.
There are now two alternative antifreeze products on the market that are much less toxic than regular antifreeze. “Sierra” antifreeze has been available for several years, and is priced comparably to regular antifreeze. Prestone is now marketing a “Low-Tox” antifreeze also. Using these products is at least a step in the right direction toward reducing accidental antifreeze poisoning in animals.
Dr. Ande Johnson runs her own veterinary practice in Santa Fe.
Note: This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 1999 issue.
For more on household hazards, see PET POISONS, Part One and Two
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