Ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, is used in car radiators and in some screen washes and de-icers to prevent freezing. Unfortunately, it is extremely toxic to cats, and every year many cats die from antifreeze poisoning.
How are cats exposed to ethylene glycol?
Cats only need to drink a teaspoon or less of antifreeze for it to cause serious illness and even death.
Cats appear to like the taste of antifreeze, so may drink it from puddles or spillages. They may also ingest it by grooming themselves after walking through it.
Unfortunately, there have also been cases of malicious poisoning of cats with antifreeze. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is a criminal offence to poison a cat. The maximum penalty for anyone found guilty is up to six months in prison and/or a £20,000 fine.
What are the signs of antifreeze poisoning?
A cat may not show any signs of poisoning for about half an hour after ingesting ethylene glycol. Signs of illness may then occur such as vomiting, a wobbly gait (appearing ‘drunk’), weakness and tiredness.
As kidney damage develops, cats may also drink, urinate a lot and become very unwell, even collapsing. Blood and urine samples taken by the vet will show abnormalities consistent with ethylene glycol toxicity such as kidney damage and certain crystals in the urine.
How is ethylene glycol toxicity treated?
If a cat is treated by a vet within an hour of drinking antifreeze it may be possible to make the cat vomit, to try and stop any more poison being absorbed.
Unfortunately, cats are rarely seen drinking the antifreeze and are usually taken to the vet when the antifreeze has already been absorbed and the cat is showing signs of illness. If the cat can reach the vet within 3 to 4 hours of ingesting the ethylene glycol, it may be treated with intravenous fluids and an antidote or a drug that can counteract the effects of the poison.
It is vitally important to bring your cat to the vet immediately if you think there is any possibility that it has ingested antifreeze, but tragically, even with prompt veterinary treatment, ethylene glycol poisoning is fatal in the majority of cases.
How can I prevent my cat from being poisoned with ethylene glycol?
- If you have any products containing ethylene glycol such as antifreeze, make sure you store them safely away from children and animals.
- Choose screen wash and de-icer sprays that do not contain ethylene glycol.
- If a car radiator has been drained and a splash of antifreeze remains on the floor, wipe it up completely and rinse the area thoroughly with water.
- Remember even a tiny amount on a cat’s feet (picked up if it walks through a spillage) is enough to cause harm.
- If you think there is any chance that your cat has been exposed to ethylene glycol, please contact your local Pennard Vets branch immediately, and remember that our emergency service at Sevenoaks is available 24 hours a day for advice and treatment.