With winter here, many of us will be using antifreeze to either de-ice our windscreens or to stop our engines from freezing.
However, antifreeze is incredibly toxic to dogs, and if ingested it can prove fatal. It leads to severe illness, disorientation and if left untreated, kidney failure.
In this post, we will explain antifreeze poisoning in dogs in great detail.
We’ll let you know what antifreeze and antifreeze poisoning are, the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in dogs, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. This way, you can spot any signs of antifreeze poisoning and seek appropriate help immediately.
Antifreeze is a toxic substance used to stop water from freezing. Its main ingredient is the toxin Ethylene Glycol which is poisonous for dogs and for humans if ingested.
Antifreeze is used to lower the freezing point of the water in your car’s engine cooling system, which therefore stops the water in your engine from freezing.
Antifreeze poisoning is the most common type of poisoning in dogs. Dogs usually ingest it when the liquid has been spilt from a container or dripped from a car’s radiator.
Dogs are attracted to the liquids’ sweet smell and taste, and it is not until after ingestion when the real, bitter aftertaste is apparent. By this time, it is usually too late and the toxin is well on its way to the dog’s bloodstream.
Less than 2 tablespoons (30ml) of antifreeze is enough to poison a medium sized dog. Even less is needed for smaller breeds; a slightly higher amount will poison a large dog.
Antifreeze poisoning affects a dog’s liver, brain and kidneys.
If dogs have any ethylene glycol in their bloodstream and leave it without treatment, it will cause severe kidney damage, or acute renal tubular necrosis, as soon as consumed. This leads to the internal structures of the dog’s kidney to be damaged and will be fatal if left untreated.
• Lack of appetite
• Increased water consumption
• Increased urination
• Head tremors
• Increased heart rate
• Rapid breathing
Please note that the dog’s kidneys will be severely damaged by this stage, and kidney failure is almost definite. If your dog gets to this stage without help, it is almost certain that the poisoning will be fatal. Other symptoms include:
• Severe depression
• Extreme vomiting and diarrhea
Even if you are not sure that your dog has come into contact with antifreeze, if they are showing any signs of poisoning then you need to take them to see a vet immediately.
The vet will conduct a number of standard tests to see if your dog has been poisoned.
• There is an Ethylene Glycol Test Kit available at all veterinary practices, and this will give a definite answer to whether or not your dog has been poisoned. However, this test is only accurate within 12 hours of ingestion so it is vital that you take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
• Your vet will administer a urinalysis and a blood test to detect any poison in the body, and these will immediately be sent for analysis.
• After antifreeze ingestion, a dog’s kidneys are usually very swollen, so a vet may also use an ultrasound to look for any problems in the kidney or liver.
• If you get the chance, it is usually helpful to bring in a stool or vomit sample for your vet to analyse, as this will help them diagnose the type of poisoning and accelerate your pet’s treatment. You will also need to be as thorough as possible with your dog’s medical history as this will also help expedite your dog's treatment.
The longer you leave your dog untreated, the higher the chance that the poisoning will lead to death. So, if you suspect your dog has been exposed to antifreeze you need to take them to a vet immediately.
As with most things, the sooner you treat antifreeze poisoning the higher the chance of survival and recovery.
The key is to reduce absorption and increase excretion of the toxin. There are a number of things that your vet will administer to do this:
• Emetic drugs to induce vomiting.
• Activated charcoal to bind to the toxin and stop further absorption into the blood.
• Fomepizole. This is a highly effective drug that stops any further metabolism of Ethylene Glycol. It can only be given within 8 hours of toxin ingestion.
• Intravenous fluids to control dehydration, increase blood flow to the tissues and stimulate urination. These increase the chance of ethylene glycol being eliminated from the body safely before anymore damage can take place.
If your dog is treated with these antidotes within eight hours of ingestion, they have an excellent prognosis and will usually recover. But, as each hour passes, the prognosis worsens.
If your dog reaches the 24-72 hour stage without treatment, their kidneys will more often than not be severely damaged. If only the renal tubules of your dog’s kidneys are affected, the damage may be reversible, but if your dog’s kidneys fail, the success rate is very low.
It is vital that you take your dog to get treated as soon as possible. If you manage to take your dog to see a vet as soon as they have ingested antifreeze, then they will have a huge chance of recovery.
There are a number of ways to prevent your dog from ingesting antifreeze in the future.
• Keep any antifreeze sealed and in a cupboard away from your dog.
• If using antifreeze outside and your dog is present, never leave the container open and always keep it high up.
• Try hard not to spill any antifreeze. If you do, make sure your dog is out of the way and immediately clean it up.
• Get rid of any used antifreeze containers immediately after finishing them.
• Use antifreeze products with propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol. Propylene glycol is registered as safe if accidentally ingested.
• Don’t allow your dog to roam freely around areas where there may be antifreeze spills. This includes driveways, roads, gutters and garages.
If your dog does ingest antifreeze, it is vital that you get them attended to by a veterinary practitioner immediately. If you leave your dog and hope that they will improve on their own, this will be fatal for them, as they cannot recover without medical help.
As always, prevention is better than the cure. So, if you do have a dog around, it is important to take the right measures in order to keep them away from the toxin.
Even if you don’t think your dog has been exposed to antifreeze, if they start to show signs of poisoning you must get them checked out.
The faster you act, the higher the chances of recovery.
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