Veterinarian offices see many pets suffering the effects of antifreeze poisoning, especially just before cold weather sets in. The deadly ingredient in antifreeze is ethylene glycol and it accounts for more than 90 per cent of the liquid. Unfortunately, ethylene glycol is naturally sweet tasting and pets that find some are quick to drink the toxic liquid. The symptoms of antifreeze poisoning are easy to recognise if the owner knows what to look for.
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Notice if your dog or cat is stumbling or exhibiting drunken behaviour. This is often the first sign that something is wrong with your pet. Depending upon the level of consumption, your dog or cat may become dizzy and may refuse to walk. They may also act depressed at this early stage as the ethylene glycol affects their central nervous system.
Watch for vomiting during the first few hours after the animal drinks antifreeze. The ethylene glycol may irritate the lining of your pet’s stomach and they may retch. This usually occurs within one or two hours; after that, the antifreeze is no longer in the stomach. Some pets may not vomit if the amount ingested was small.
Observe excessive thirst and urination in your pet. As the ethylene glycol reaches the brain through the bloodstream, it affects the portion of the brain that controls the animal’s thirst. Your dog or cat may drink and urinate excessively at this stage of poisoning.
Suspect antifreeze poisoning if your pet, after suffering the above symptoms, seems to return to its normal healthy state after 10 to 14 hours. By this time, your pet’s liver and kidneys have completely metabolised the ethylene glycol and the animal appears to be healthy. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The damage to the liver and kidneys, depending upon the amount of antifreeze infested, is irreversible.
Pay attention to an animal that appears to get better but after one or two days develops severe symptoms, including diarrhoea, dehydration, weakness and swollen kidneys. At this stage, treatment may not be effective and the animal may die.
Take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of the above symptoms but the sooner it receives medical attention, the better the chances of survival. Stumbling in any pet is a sign of poisoning and should send up a red flag.
Post a first aid chart in a visible place for quick reference in case your pet shows signs of poisoning or another ailment or injury. (See Resources)
Tips and warnings
- Waiting to take your pet to the veterinarian may cost it its life if it drinks antifreeze. If you witness an animal drinking the fluid, immediately call the vet and transport it to an emergency animal care facility.
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