A small puddle in your garage or on your driveway could bring grave illness or even death to your pet. Although you must also be vigilant about exposing your furry friend to the many toxins to be found in indoor areas such as under your kitchen sink, never forget about the life-threatening properties of antifreeze, a substance that dogs find irresistible.

Antifreeze and the Dangers it Can Bring

This brightly colored chemical is designed to regulate your vehicle’s engine temperature during extreme weather conditions. When you fill your car or truck’s coolant reservoir, it’s very easy to inadvertently spill some of this substance, creating an alluring puddle in a parking lot, driveway or garage.

One of the primary chemicals in antifreeze is something called ethylene glycol. It can also be found in hydraulic brake fluids, windshield de-icers, solvents and paints and even cosmetics. Although it is odorless, this chemical has a sweet taste that animals love. If just a small amount of antifreeze is ingested, severe poisoning and even death can result. The mere act of walking through a puddle of antifreeze can be fatal to an animal who then licks it off its paws.

How Bad is Antifreeze Ingestion?

Just a half a teaspoon per pound of your dog’s body weight can be fatal. When an animal first ingests the ethylene glycol, it acts on the central nervous system. Subsequently, the liver begins to metabolize it, turning it into hazardous components that cause kidney damage and shut down urine production.

The Importance of Immediate Treatment

If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to antifreeze, take them to the vet immediately. If the animal is not treated within eight to 12 hours after ingestion, the antidote will probably be ineffective. By the time the dog begins exhibiting symptoms of staggering and weakness, it is often too late. Without treatment, antifreeze ingestion is always fatal.

Symptoms of Antifreeze Poisoning

The signs of antifreeze exposure depend on the amount consumed and the time since the ingestion occurred. There are three stages of antifreeze poisoning:

  • Stage 1, occurring within 30 minutes to 12 hours of ingestion. The animal may display the following symptoms that mimic intoxication: lethargy, depression, staggering or lack of coordination, vomiting or diarrhea, increased thirst and drinking, increased urination or lowered body temperature. Some animals even experience seizures or go into comas during this stage.
  • Stage 2, occurring 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. External symptoms may decrease during this stage, leading you to believe that your pet is getting better. However, internal symptoms of increased breathing and heart rate as well as dehydration are worsening.
  • Stage 3, occurring 36 to 72 hours after antifreeze consumption. Kidneys begin to swell and severely deteriorate, preventing the dog from urinating normally and causing pain. Previous symptoms such as appetite loss, lethargy and depression might come back, and the dog may go into a coma and even die.

Diagnosing Antifreeze Poisoning

Analyzing the concentration of antifreeze in your dog’s blood is the best way to test for poisoning. Some veterinarians and animal hospitals use test strips to detect the presence of ethylene glycol in the blood; however, this method is not always accurate. Because the highest concentrations of ethylene glycol are found in the blood one to six hours after ingestion, the use of these test strips is only recommended during that time window. Although uranalysis and bloodwork can determine the damage that the antifreeze has caused once the kidneys have started to fail, it is often too late by this point to provide effective treatment. A final way to diagnose antifreeze poisoning is through the use of a black light, which can spot the dye that is added to antifreeze on your dog’s paws or muzzle or in their urine.

Treating Antifreeze Poisoning

Ethylene glycol toxicity is treated with an antidote, usually fomepizole or ethanol. These drugs are administered as soon as the vet suspects antifreeze poisoning while awaiting test results. Concurrently, the vet will administer intensive intravenous fluids as well as medications for nausea and vomiting. Finally, the vet will provide supportive care, monitoring electrolyte levels, blood PH and urine production.

If you suspect that your dog has ingested antifreeze, do not induce vomiting on your own without first contacting your vet or a poison control hotline. Attempting to induce vomiting might have no beneficial effect because of the speed at which your animal’s system absorbs the chemical. Additionally, vomiting can cause a weakened, neurologically compromised or staggering animal to choke. The best action is to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible, ideally before any clinical symptoms are evident in order to have the best prognosis.

Keeping Your Dog Safe

The good news is that there is now a dog-safe antifreeze on the market. This contains propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol, and ingesting it does not have the same danger. Even so, it is important to keep all chemicals in sealed, leak-proof containers that your dog cannot access. Check your garage and driveway regularly to ensure that no fluids have spilled, and clean up any that have. Contact your local Household Hazardous Waste program to learn where and how to dispose of used antifreeze. Finally, keep the phone numbers for ASPCA Animal Poison Control and the Pet Poison Hotline close at hand in case of emergency. Although you may be charged a consultation fee, these agencies are open 24 hours a day 365 days a year and can provide expertise and support that just might save your best furry friend’s life.