As cold weather approaches, we all start to get ready - slowly but surely adding additional clothing, winterizing our vehicles, and getting oil for the furnace. Our companion animals however, don’t have the resources we do to plan for cold weather, especially if they are homeless. While animals are incredibly resourceful, they do succumb to winter hazards that could possibly have been avoided had humans been more conscientious.

One of the most dangerous things to be on the lookout for is of course, antifreeze. As we get our vehicles ready for cold weather, we need to make sure we do not have antifreeze leaks, open containers of antifreeze, and that we are using more animal safe antifreeze like Sierra brand. Safer products like Sierra combine the benefits of biodegradability, low toxicity, and all-climate protection. Its main ingredient is propylene glycol (rather than the deadly ethylene glycol) which is safer for both animals and children (and yes, there are hundreds of ethylene glycol toxicities reported every year in humans in the United States).

Antifreeze poisoning is extremely dangerous and often results in death before animal guardians even know what has happened to their companion animals. More than 10,000 dogs and cats are accidentally poisoned each year by antifreeze ingestion. That doesn’t even include intentional poisonings. Animals are especially attracted to antifreeze because of its taste. A cat can ingest a fatal quantity by licking its paws after walking through a puddle of antifreeze that has leaked.

Four ounces of antifreeze ingested by a 60 lb dog can cause kidney failure and/or death while 1.5 teaspoons is fatal to a 10 lb cat. Within 30 minutes to 12 hours after an animal drinks antifreeze, s/he will act as if drunk. The animal may be wobbly, depressed, vomiting, develop muscle twitching and seizures, and go into a coma. Dogs may appear to recover but die within 24-72 hours of ingestion. Cats often mask the signs of illness until treatment is too late. Cats metabolize rapidly and must be treated immediately to have even a slight chance of recovery.

The ethylene glycol in antifreeze becomes deadly when it is metabolized by the liver into a poison that affects the brain and kills the kidney cells.

If you suspect antifreeze ingestion, seek help immediately!