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Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs

Dog sitting in the car because of antifreeze poisoning in dog
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Overview

Severity: i Critical
  • Ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in antifreeze solutions, is a toxic substance when ingested by dogs.
  • Consuming ethylene glycol causes kidney injury and kidney failure within two to three days.
  • If you suspect that your dog may have ingested antifreeze, immediately take your dog to the nearest vet.

Cold weather brings about a lot of wonderful things, including hot cocoa, pumpkin spice lattes and the holidays. However, It can also increase your dog’s chances of being exposed to antifreeze, a deadly toxin. Antifreeze is commonly used in car radiators, outdoor toilets, brake fluid and is even found in some decorative snow globes. 

This article will explain what antifreeze poisoning in dogs is, the dangers of exposure to antifreeze, signs of antifreeze poisoning, its treatment and how to prevent it. 

Can Dogs Get Antifreeze Poisoning? 

Dog head tilted wondering about antifreeze poisoning in dog

Ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in most antifreeze solutions, is a highly toxic substance when ingested by dogs and humans alike. Dogs are most frequently exposed to antifreeze by licking up fluid leaks from underneath cars, spills in the garage or drinking out of winterized toilets containing the solution. For this reason, outdoor dogs, dogs that spend time in garages and those that live in cold climates are at the highest risk for exposure to this dangerous substance. 

If antifreeze poisoning is not treated within hours, it is frequently fatal. All dogs of any age, breed or size can be seriously harmed by ethylene glycol ingestion. For small dogs, even a seemingly tiny amount of antifreeze lapped up from the ground can kill them.

Dangers of Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs

Dog at the vet as possible antifreeze poisoning in dog

Consuming ethylene glycol causes kidney injury and kidney failure within two to three days. And it doesn’t take much of this substance to kill a dog. The lethal dose of antifreeze in dogs is under half of a teaspoon per pound of body weight, so a 20-pound dog can be killed by ingesting just under three tablespoons of the liquid.

If you suspect that your dog may have ingested antifreeze, time is of the essence to prevent serious injury or death. You should immediately take your dog to the nearest veterinarian, ideally an emergency clinic. If you live far from a veterinary hospital, contact either the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 for advice. 

Symptoms of Dog Antifreeze Poisoning

Dog sitting in the car drooling signs of antifreeze poisoning in dogs

Sometimes, pet parents may not witness their dog drinking antifreeze or may not suspect they have gotten into it. For this reason, it is important to recognize some of the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning. 

Ethylene glycol is an alcohol, so the initial signs of ingestion of this substance are similar to what you’d expect to see in a person after a night of excessive drinking. Common symptoms observed 30 minutes to up to 12 hours after ingestion of antifreeze include:

  • A staggering, drunken gait 
  • Disorientation
  • Sleepiness
  • Vomiting 
  • Drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Seizures or coma rarely occur with ingestion of substantial quantities

After 8 to 12 hours, it often appears that dogs are improving as the signs of drunkenness subside. However, at this phase, internal organ damage is setting in. The following signs may occur at 12 to 24 hours after ingestion: 

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid shallow breathing 
  • Labored breathing 

After 24 to 72 hours, signs of kidney failure start to set in, including: 

  • Production of low volumes of urine, or no urine at all in severe cases
  • Severe lethargy 
  • Vomiting 
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Treatment for Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs 

Dog at the vet hospital

If your dog has gotten into antifreeze, you may be wondering if there is something you can do at home to mitigate a poor outcome. The best thing you can do for your dog is to get them to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible. If you live far away from the nearest hospital, contact animal poison control or a veterinarian right away to see if they recommend that you induce vomiting before making the trip.

Once your dog is at the vet, your veterinarian may induce vomiting and/or feed them activated charcoal, a compound that binds up drugs. This option will only be effective if your dog was recently exposed to ethylene glycol, within about an hour, as the body very rapidly absorbs the substance.

If you are unsure if your dog got into antifreeze, your veterinarian will take a detailed history of what has been going on with your dog and ask about where your dog may roam. A thorough physical examination will be conducted to check for symptoms consistent with antifreeze poisoning and a specific blood test to check for the presence of ethylene glycol may be performed. Your veterinarian will also want to run tests to look for signs of kidney damage. 

Dog at the vet getting tests done

A urinalysis will also be performed to look for abnormal urine concentrations consistent with a kidney injury and urinary crystals that often develop as a result of antifreeze ingestion. These crystals that form in the kidneys are responsible for much of the damage associated with antifreeze poisoning. 

The most effective treatment for ethylene glycol ingestion is antidote therapy. This therapy must be initiated within 8 to 12 hours to be effective, but the sooner the better. 

IV fluid therapy is also an important part of treatment as it helps flush the body of toxins, treats dehydration, and supports blood flow to the internal organs. In addition to antidote therapy, the most effective treatment for ethylene glycol toxicity is dialysis. This procedure utilizes a particular machine to remove toxins from the blood. Dialysis is the only therapy that may prevent death in dogs once signs of kidney failure have already developed. Dialysis is still a relatively new procedure in animals and there are currently just twenty-five facilities in the United States that offer this [1]. 

The prognosis for antifreeze poisoning in dogs is fair to good if treated intensively within 8 to 12 hours of ingestion. If a dog is already showing signs of kidney injury when treatment begins, the prognosis is poor. 

The amount of time it will take your dog to recover from antifreeze ingestion depends on how quickly they were treated for it and how much antifreeze they ingested. This may range from days to weeks. Permanent kidney damage is possible. 

Cost to Treat Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs

Pet parents may be wondering how much they can expect to pay for antifreeze poisoning treatments. Costs vary greatly depending on your location and the type of veterinary facility but general estimates include: 

  • Physical exam: $40-$150
  • Blood and urine testing: $200-$400 per day 
  • Abdominal ultrasound: $300-$500
  • Antidote treatment: $250-$350
  • IV fluid therapy: $150-$250 per day 
  • Hospitalization: $1,000-$2,000 per day
  • Dialysis treatment: $3,500-$4,500 for two to three treatments 

How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Antifreeze Poisoning 

Dog sitting in car with owner

The best thing that pet parents can do is to prevent their dogs from getting into antifreeze in the first place. 

If you must use an antifreeze product, pick one that uses propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol, as it is much less toxic to dogs. You should also check underneath your car and promptly clean up any puddles and fix any leaks. 

Keep antifreeze containers securely closed and out of reach of pets. It’s also best to keep dogs indoors and out of garages, especially in freezing temperatures, as water will freeze over, making a thirsty dog seek out liquid antifreeze. 

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