Tips on Antifreeze Toxicity
Story Date: 12/16/2010

Below are some facts on antifreeze toxicity and how to avoid/decrease the possibility of your pet ingesting this solution. 





  1. Antifreeze is a chemical that, when added to water, reduces the freezing point.  Most commonly, people add antifreeze to their car’s engine to prevent damage during cold weather.


  1. A large percentage of antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol.  This substance is extremely hazardous, especially when ingested by dogs, cats and children.  It also has a sweet flavor, increasing the chance that a pet will drink it. 


  1. Ethylene glycol is also found in brake fluids, aircraft deicers and products used to winterize RVs and summer homes in cold climates.  It is used in condensers, heat exchangers and home solar units.


  1. A single teaspoon of ethylene glycol can be fatal to a 10 lb cat and 1-2 tablespoons can kill a 10 lb dog. 


  1. Pets typically gain access to antifreeze in the garage or other automotive work areas. 


  1. Treatment needs to begin within a few hours of exposure.  Animals that have ingested antifreeze will appear to be drunk.  Lethargy, increased thirst, vomiting, staggering and possible seizures may be apparent as well.


  1. Sadly, this drunken state is short-lived and many pet owners think their pet will recover.  Even though the pet appears normal, the major damage inside the body is still occurring.  Crystals form in the kidneys, causing severe and sometimes irreversible damage.  This can cause the organ to completely shut down.


  1. A blood test can confirm antifreeze toxicity.  If the pet is seen in quickly, the prognosis for the pet is actually good.  Immediate and intensive care plus many supportive treatments and a 72 hour hospital stay is the normal course of action.


  1. The best protection for your pets is for you to be aware of spills and clean them up immediately.   Wash spills off of driveways or use cat litter to soak up the antifreeze.  The litter can be swept up and discarded.


  1. Keep automotive supplies sealed and out of reach of pets.  You should also be aware that other items, like snow globes, can contain varying types of antifreeze as well. 


  1. Some cities and states have tried to require that antifreeze contain an agent to make the chemical taste bitter, but, to date, there is no good data saying that adding taste aversive substances helps.   


  1. One alternative for you to look for is antifreeze solutions made with propylene glycol (not ethylene glycol).  They are reportedly safer, but toxicity can still occur with larger amounts.  Liver damage and kidney problems are possible.


  1. If you suspect your pet has ingested any sort of antifreeze solution, do not wait.  Contact your veterinarian immediately!

Information provided by Dr. Camille DeClementi and the ASPCA Poison Center


NC Veterinary Medical Association
1611 Jones Franklin Road, Suite 108
Raleigh, NC 27606-3376
Tel: (919) 851-5850
Fax: (919) 851-5859