Antifreeze ingestion can kill pets. With winter weather just around the corner, winterizing a car with new antifreeze will protect a car from a frozen radiator. Properly disposing of used antifreeze is environmentally responsible and will also prevent a potentially fatal poisoning to your pet.
Antifreeze – ethylene glycol – in and of itself is not toxic. It is converted to a kidney poison by the liver. Shortly after ingestion, antifreeze is transport by the blood stream from the stomach to the liver. The liver then converts the antifreeze into a poison that damages the kidney. Once kidney damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed.
Antifreeze is chemically very similar to ethyl alcohol, that which is found in alcoholic beverages. Signs of antifreeze ingestion and intoxication are similar to what a human experiences if too much alcohol is consumed – the pet acts drunk. Within an hour of ingestion, a dog or cat will begin to stagger and act disoriented. These signs will persist for an hour or two but then, as the antifreeze is converted to the poison that damages the kidney, the signs of intoxication will disappear and the dog or cat may then appear normal. As kidney damage occurs, the acidity of the blood goes up and the pet will begin vomiting and become very lethargic, even comatose.
If not promptly treated, irreversible kidney damage occurs. This is fatal to your pet.
Treatment of antifreeze begins with making the pet vomit to expel as much antifreeze from the stomach as possible. Next, Activated Charcoal – Toxiban – is administered to absorb any antifreeze not expelled by vomiting. Third, a pet must be admitted into the hospital for therapy to prevent the liver from converting the antifreeze into the kidney poison. This therapy is aimed at blocking the enzyme system – alcohol dehydrogenase – from acting on the antifreeze and converting it into the poison. This enzyme system in humans allows us to consume alcohol and turn it into non-toxic substances that are excreted from the body. Dogs also have this enzyme system in their liver. The alcohol dehydrogenase converts the antifreeze into the poison that damages the kidney.
The “old time” therapy for treating antifreeze intoxication was to administer 95 proof ethyl alcohol (“Everclear”) as a 20% solution intravenously to the patient as repeated doses over two days. By binding to the active site of the enzyme, the alcohol prevents the antifreeze from being converted into the kidney poison. The antifreeze is then excreted intact by the kidneys – no kidney damage occurs. The “modern” therapy (Antizol) is based on the same principle of preventing alcohol dehydrogenase from converting the antifreeze into the kidney poison. The advantage of Antizol is that there are no adverse effects as found when using ethyl alcohol as the mode of therapy.
Dogs and cats will readily drink antifreeze. It is sweet and tastes good. Preventing antifreeze ingestion is simple. Do not leave a container of antifreeze where a dog or cat can get to it. Keep your pet in a protected environment so that it cannot roam to a neighbor’s house.
If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, seek veterinary care immediately! Time is of the essence. To save a pet’s life, therapy must begin as soon as possible – before the liver can convert antifreeze into the kidney poison. Once kidney damage occurs, it is permanent. If too much kidney tissue is lost, it is fatal.