Antifreeze poisoning in cats

Winter CatWinter is coming and a lot of people are preparing for the cold days to come.  Antifreeze is used commonly in radiators and some screen washes, but did you know that it is extremely toxic to cats?

Cats like drinking from puddles, ponds and standing water which makes the outdoor cat quite prone to drinking contaminated water. In addition it is very sweet, so cats like the taste.  The lethal dose is only the equivalent of a 6ml teaspoon full.

So, why is Antifreeze poisonous to cats?

The active ingredient in antifreeze (and other products) is ethylene glycol and once drunk is rapidly absorbed into the body.  Within hours it causes severe kidney damage which is very difficult to treat and in one report involving 25 cases, 96% died.

So what can you do 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, please clear this away. If you have an ornamental garden pond, please don’t add antifreeze to it in the winter time. It may keep your fountains running in a cold snap, but could risk your cat's health.

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

If you do suspect your cat has drunk antifreeze then you should call a vet straight away.  If the cat is treated immediately after exposure it may be treated successfully.  The first sign you see may be wobbliness or falling over (as if drunk).  The back and kidney area can be very painful, there may be vomiting and your cat may be very very thirsty.  This is all secondary to kidney failure which ultimately leads to the tragic outcome of death.  Your cat will need intensive treatment, but unfortunately the survival rate is very low if the kidneys have been damaged and cats are often put to sleep on presentation at the vets.

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.

Please note: this advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health - even if they are closed, they will always have an out of hours service available. Find out more about what to do in an out of hours emergency.