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Antifreeze poisoning in dogs: what you need to know

During cold snaps, antifreeze poisonings become increasingly common. These typically occur when ethylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in antifreeze, leaks from car radiators or screen wash containers. This chemical is extremely toxic to dogs and, to exacerbate the problem, it’s also very sweet so they like the taste.

How much antifreeze will harm a dog?

Any amount is dangerous, even if it’s found in contaminated water such as puddles, but just a few tablespoonfuls are potentially fatal.

Antifreeze poisoning treatment

Treatment may be needed if your dog 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.

It’s worth bearing in mind ethylene glycol can also be found in:

  • windscreen de-icer
  • brake fluid
  • liquid rust inhibitors
  • hydraulic fluids
  • ornamental fountains
  • decorative snow globes
  • some solvents and paints
Symptoms

Antifreeze dog poisoning symptoms

Once drunk ethylene glycol is rapidly absorbed into the body. Within hours it can cause severe kidney damage which is very difficult to treat. The first sign you see may be wobbliness or falling over as if drunk. The back and kidney area can also be very painful, there may be vomiting and your dog may be very thirsty. This is all secondary to kidney failure.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning also include diarrhoea, seizures and collapse. The length of time it takes for these symptoms to appear varies depending on how much your dog has drunk but be aware he may appear to recover from the immediate symptoms after about 12 hours, only to worsen again as the ethylene glycol works its way through his body.

Treatment

What to do if a dog licks antifreeze?

If you suspect your dog has drunk antifreeze then you should call your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now emergency clinic, straight away. If the dog is treated immediately after exposure he will have a far better chance of survival. Your dog may well need intensive treatment, but be warned, the survival rate for antifreeze poisoning is low if the kidneys have been badly damaged.

Image of a dog on a sofa sleeping for Vets Now article on diarrhoea in dogs

How can I protect my dog from antifreeze poisoning?

With such a lethal product, prevention is key. If you are using antifreeze or any product containing ethylene glycol be very careful where you store it and if you spill any clear it up immediately. You should also keep a close eye on your car radiator.

If you have an ornamental garden pond don’t add antifreeze in the winter time. It may keep your fountains running in a cold snap, but could risk the lives of dogs and cats coming into contact with it.

There is a more in-depth article on what to do if your pet has been poisoned here.

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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. While propylene glycol antifreeze is more expensive, it’s safe for pets and other wildlife, so please consider using this instead.