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Digging Deeper: Getting the Facts on the Dangers of Antifreeze and Your Pets
Revised: June 27, 2018
Published: January 01, 2001

Chances are, you’re already aware of the fact that antifreeze can be a dangerous poison to humans and animals alike. But do you know why the substance is so toxic to pets? Would you know what to do if your pet got into the chemical? 

Since the winter weather has many people reaching for the antifreeze, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) wants to make sure you know exactly why it’s so important to keep your pets safe from this toxin, what to do if you think they have been exposed, and what can be done to help your pet in the event of an emergency.  

What Makes Antifreeze a Dangerous Chemical? 

A key ingredient found in most antifreeze is ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is highly toxic and affects the nervous system and kidneys. What’s worse is that ethylene glycol has a sweet taste, so pets can easily be drawn to and ingest it. It takes only a small amount of ethylene glycol to be potentially fatal.  While problems may start within a couple of hours of ingestion, sometimes early signs may be missed in poisoning cases concerning this ingredient. In six to twelve hours, pets may be markedly ill.  

Where is Ethylene Glycol Found?

While ethylene glycol is most commonly found in antifreeze used in car radiators, that is not the only location it can be found. Antifreeze may also be found in:

  • The base of portable basketball hoops 
  • Placed in toilets to ‘winterize’ a house and keep plumbing from freezing 
  • Printer and pen inks 
  • Eye masks
  • Snow globes 
  • Some household latex paints   

Signs of Ethylene Glycol/Antifreeze Poisoning

  • Unsteadiness on the feet
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Increase in thirst and urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures

What Should you Do if your Pet has Ingested Antifreeze?

If you think your pet may have ingested antifreeze, the best thing to do is immediately take them to the veterinary hospital. You’ll also want to be sure to bring with you the packaging from the antifreeze, so the veterinarian can determine the best form of treatment based on the amount ingested and the ingredients listed in the product. 

At the hospital, the veterinarian will evaluate your pet and run lab tests. If it is uncertain whether your pet was exposed to antifreeze or exposed to enough to be cause for concern, there is a test the veterinarians can run to first determine if the exposure will be harmful or problematic. 

The good news is, if your pet has ingested antifreeze, there is an antidote. However, it is extremely important to get treatment started as soon as possible.

What Else Do you Need to Know?

Pet-safe antifreezes do exist. Instead of containing ethylene glycol, these versions of antifreeze contain propylene glycol—which has a much wider margin of safety. It is still best practice to keep pets out of any type of chemicals, even pet-safe antifreeze. 

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any poisonous substances, contact your veterinarian or call Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 888-426-4435 immediately.

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