Recently, some food items were laced with antifreeze and left on the side of the street. Why does this matter? Because it’s very likely this was done intentionally to harm an animal with an indiscriminate appetite, or if they have the chance to browse while their owner was distracted. I’m not sure why anybody would do this type of thing, but I suspect they had to know it would be harmful.
In the past, it’s been reported that antifreeze has had a sweet taste to animals, but that has been disproven and it’s now more likely animals will try it if they are dehydrated or just too curious. The active ingredient is ethylene glycol (EG) and can be found in other substances or objects such as brake fluids, ornamental snow globes from overseas, camper toilet winterizers, and inks or ink pads. Most of the time, pets can be kept away from exposure to EG, but accidents happen.
The problem with EG is that it is very fast acting and clinical signs appear relatively soon after ingestion. As quickly as 30 minutes after drinking some, your pet may show signs comparable to drunkenness. There may be some stumbling, but vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. This may last for up to 12 hours when an acidic level in the blood stream can take over as the EG is metabolized. They might appear to show some improvement before lethargy, a dull mental state, increased breathing rate, or seizures are probable to occur. Cells of the heart muscle can get damaged at this stage, as well as the development of high blood sugar.
Lastly, one to three days after ingestion, patients will develop a severe form of kidney failure. Crystals will form in the kidneys causing permanent damage and blood may be seen in the urine. An affected animal may enter a coma like state. This is why early attention to getting treatment is so vital.
So if we didn’t see them get into the EG, how can we know? Some products have a fluorescent dye in them that allows it to stain the fur or mouth of the pet when you shine a black light on it (note: this is not a 100 per cent effective way to eliminate the possibility of determining exposure). Blood testing and a urinalysis by your veterinarian can help look for other reasons your pet might be ill or determine the prognosis for your pet. There are specific tests for EG, but they can often have false positives or false negatives.
If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to EG, be sure to contact your regular veterinarian or get to an emergency clinic as soon as possible. They will know how to treat your cat or dog and give them the best chance at recovery. Expect that your pet will need to be in hospital for a few days for treatment and have some repeated blood testing to assess if treatment is working and when they can potentially go home. Unfortunately, the prognosis is guarded to ‘poor’ in many cases because seeking treatment is delayed. As always, prevention is better than reacting to an emergency. Clean up any spills if you’re working on your car. Alternatively, products without EG are available that can do the same job. And if you suspect someone is trying to intentionally poison a pet, call the police and wait until the area has been cleaned up to help keep pets safe.
If there’s something you’ve often wondered or questions you have about regarding pets, let us know by email at [email protected].
*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.
Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at www.DRRYANLLERA.com, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.