Antifreeze Poisoning- What to Do

This is not a subsitute for proper veterinary care. If you suspect your cat has antifreeze poisoning, please don’t sit around googling and reading this- go to your vets NOW, as this is very commonly fatal. 90% of cats die after drinking antifreeze.

Antifreeze is the most common poison during the winter months, and can kill dogs, cats, and even humans, as well as a multitude of other creatures. A lot of people assume that these poisonings are purposeful, but that is not always the case- antifreeze has a sweet smell and taste, which attracts cats more than normal water. Some people use it to stop their water features freezing over, or it might spill whilst they’re filling the windscreen washer in their car- there are many places an inquisitive and thirsty pet can find antifreeze!

To make things worse, a 4kg cat only needs to drink about 5ml of antifreeze for it to be toxic- that’s about a teaspoonful! They can get this simply by licking their paws after walking through it, so it’s very hard to say how a cat got poisoned!

The Science

Antifreeze is usually made of a substance called Ethylene Glycol, which in itself isn’t actually all that poisonous- it’s actually a type of alcohol! Unfortunately, your body tries to metabolise it- like it does with anything else- using an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. The product that is formed when it does this is extremely poisonous and causes fatal kidney damage.

 

The Signs to Watch Out For

The first signs, which occur 30mins to 3 hours after drinking antifreeze, are caused by the Ethylene Glycol itself. These are signs that you would associate with being drunk, for instance:

  • Vomiting
  • Seeming depressed/sleepy
  • Appearing uncoordinated
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination

These will steadily get worse, although a brief recovery has been reported in some dogs. Signs of damage to the nervous system usually occur next, such as:

  • Stumbling
  • Weakness
  • Slow responses
  • Stopping drinking and urination

Then, as the body starts to metabolise the drug, the signs turn more serious. 12 to 24 hours after drinking, the cat may show:

  • Oral ulcers
  • Salivation
  • Seizures
  • Coma

First Aid:

There is no question about what to do in any poisoning case- take your pet straight to the vet, every minute can count. Call them as you leave the house, explaining the emergency- this will give them a chance to get things ready. They may also give you first aid advice over the phone.

On your way out the door, grab a bottle of vodka or gin if you have it to hand- no, it’s not for you! The vet may be able to use it to help your cat, and having an extra bottle to hand can help.

What Your Vet Will Do:

What your vet does depends on the stage your pet is at. If you’ve only just caught them drinking it, they may encourage the cat to vomit or provide something to try to bind the antifreeze and stop it being absorbed.

If your cat is showing signs of having drunk antifreeze a little while ago, the vet will try other things, which may include getting your cat drunk- and this is where that bottle of Vodka comes in! Ethanol is metabolised by the same enzymes in the liver as Ethylene Glycol, but it takes priority so it out-competes the Ethylene Glycol for the receptors. If the vet can keep your cat drunk on a drip for long enough, the Ethylene Glycol will be lost from the body before it can be metabolised into dangerous chemicals. The vet may also place your cat on a fluid drip to protect your cat’s kidneys by keeping them well hydrated.

 

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