Ethylene Glycol (EG) is the primary component in antifreeze (contains 95% EG), but can also be found in many paints, lacquers, polishes, and cosmetics.
Antifreeze also has a high concentration of "Phosphates" used as rust inhibitors, and "Fluorescein" (a dye) used to detect antifreeze leaks.
Ethylene Glycol is one of the most life threatening toxins in small animal veterinary medicine, because it causes "Acute Kidney Failure".
Our pets may ingest antifreeze because of its sweet taste and warming sensation. Ethylene Glycol is rapidly absorbed by the GI tract. Once ingested, signs can develop within 30 minutes which can lead to acute kidney failure, or enter into the central nervous system and cause seizures or coma. Signs may also appear in urine or stomach content. This can be seen by fluorescing with a woods lamp, or by seeing calcium oxalate crystals in a urine sample under a microscope.
Signs of Ethylene Glycol toxicity are noted in 3 stages:
Stage 1 - 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion
- Depressed mentation
- ataxia (unsteady)
- increased water consumption
- increased urination
Stage 2 - 12 - 24 hours after ingestion
- Owner may notice rapid or distressed respiration (trouble breathing)
Stage 3 - 24 - 72 hours after ingestion **This is the most common stage of presentation**
- Anorexia (not eating)
- severe depression
- an increase or decrease in urination
These are the signs associated with Acute Kidney Failure
Cats are more likely to develop life-threatening signs due to the small amount needed to cause toxicity.
Ingestion amounts needed to cause toxicity:
Cats - 1.5 ml/kg of undiluted antifreeze ingested by cats can be fatal
Ex: A cat weighing 10lbs needs to ingest approximately 6.8 mls or 1 1/2 teaspoons
Dogs - 4.4 - 6.6 ml/kg of undiluted antifreeze ingested by dogs can be fatal
Ex: A dog weighing 25lbs needs to ingest approximately 1 1/2 ounces to 2 1/2 ounces
Seek veterinary medical care ASAP. Aggressive therapy is usually needed, which includes: hospitalization, bloodwork, IV medications, and IV fluids.
There is an antidote called 4-MP (methyprazole) which MUST be given within 8 hours of ingestion.
The prognosis if ingestion is treated within 5 hours in dogs, and within 3 hours in cats is GOOD. After kidney failure has developed the prognosis is GRAVE.
Most ingestions of Ethylene Glycol are accidental. Prevention includes community awareness, proper disposal of used antifreeze, and proper storage of unused antifreeze. Rapid clean up of any leaks or spills is most important. There are "safe" antifreezes on the market that do not contain Ethylene Glycol.
If you are concerned your pet has been exposed to antifreeze or have additional concerns please contact our staff at Eagle Animal Hospital. We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and surrounding areas.
Written by Vicki Guy, veterinary technician