Antifreeze poisoning in cats: what you need to know

Treatment may be needed if your cat swallows any antifreeze so please contact your vet as soon as possible, or find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital.

Antifreeze is commonly found in car radiators and some screen washes, but did you know it is extremely toxic to cats? Cats like drinking from ditches, puddles and ponds which means they’re prone to drinking water contaminated with anitfreeze. Antifreeze, otherwise known as ethylene glycol, is also found in some inks and snowglobes. To make matters worse antifreeze is very sweet, so cats like the taste. One tiny 6ml teaspoon is potentially deadly.


What are the symptoms?

The active ingredient, ethylene glycol, is rapidly absorbed into the body after drinking. Within hours it causes severe kidney damage which is very difficult to treat. In one report involving 25 cases, 96% of those affected died. The first sign you see may be that your cat is very quiet and still, there may be vomiting and wobbliness or falling over as if drunk. This may progress to having a fit, and kidney pain as the kidneys start to fail.

Read more: Our in-depth guide on what to do if your pet has been poisoned

Antifreeze poisoning in cats - Vets Now

So what can you do to protect your cat?

With such a lethal product the key is prevention. If you are using antifreeze or any product containing ethylene glycol please be very careful where you store it. And if you spill any, clear it up straight away. If you have an ornamental garden pond, please don’t add antifreeze in the winter time. It may keep your fountains running in a cold snap, but it could put your cat’s life at risk.


What should I do if I suspect my cat has drunk antifreeze?

If you do suspect your cat has drunk antifreeze then you should call your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now emergency clinic, straight away. If the cat is treated immediately after exposure it has a far greater chance of survival. Your cat will, however, need intensive treatment. Tragically, the survival rate is very low if the kidneys have been damaged and cats often have to be put to sleep.

Read more: Outdoor cats and traffic: how to keep your cat safe

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Is there an alternative to antifreeze?

Antifreeze is one of the most life-threatening poisonings that vets see, but there is some hope as there is a safer alternative. Propylene glycol antifreeze is more expensive but safe for pets and other wildlife, so please, if you have a cat, consider using this instead.