Antifreeze, which often contains ethylene glycol, is very good at doing what it says on the bottle. If you have ice on your windscreen or want to keep various pipes and water features from freezing up, then adding antifreeze will do the job. What the bottle DOESN’T always say, however, is that antifreeze is so toxic to cats, dogs and other small mammals and that it takes only about a teaspoon in a cat or a tablespoon in a dog of the substance to bring about a rapid and unpleasant death. In fact, a recent news article has highlighted the fact that around 50 cats a month in the UK are killed by antifreeze poisoning.Why is it such a big problem?
Antifreeze is a commonly used chemical, especially in the winter months, but many people are unaware of the danger it poses to animals. Even small children are at risk, because ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that most mammals wouldn’t think twice about consuming. It can leak out of damaged car pipes and onto the drive where cats then lick it up, or perhaps a small amount of the substance was left in the bottle and left open after use. Ethylene glycol can be found in radiator coolant, windscreen de-icing agents, motor oils, hydraulic brake fluid, paints, photographic chemicals and various solvents. A worrying new trend is for people to use it in their garden water features to keep them from freezing – an extremely dangerous action as many cats and also wildlife use these features to drink from. Unfortunately, some heartless people also use the substance to intentionally poison cats that get into their garden, and there are several cases of this under investigation at the moment.How does it affect cats?
Initial signs include behavioural changes, such as looking groggy or ‘drunk’, which makes sense because the chemical binds to the same receptors as alcohol in the body. These initial signs may only last for 1-6 hours, then they seem to recover but although they may appear to temporarily feel better, the real damage has already begun. Ethylene glycol causes crystals of calcium oxalate to form within the kidneys and because these crystals cannot be dissolved once formed, the damage is irreversible and rapid kidney failure results. Within hours to days the cat may start urinating more, then not at all as the kidneys shut down. This results in a build-up of toxins within the blood causing severe lethargy and lack of appetite, panting, vomiting, oral or gastric ulceration and sometimes coma or seizures. Death almost always occurs within a few days.Is there any treatment?
If you are lucky enough to see your cat or dog ingest antifreeze and can get them to the vet within about 3 hours before the product has a chance to be metabolised, then treatment is possible though the recommended treatment is very expensive and most vets aren’t able to stock it. Interestingly, one of the treatments for antifreeze toxicity is ethanol (aka the ‘vodka drip’ you may have heard about), as the alcohol prevents the ethylene glycol from binding to receptors in the body. This treatment is dangerous in itself however, so the prognosis for recovery is still guarded. If treatment is successful, affected animals will likely have to stay in hospital for several days on a drip to flush out any remaining toxins from the body and some degree of permanent kidney damage is likely.What can we do to cut down on antifreeze poisonings?
The best thing you can do at home is to not use antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol. Many newer products now contain propylene glycol, which isn’t nearly as toxic. Have your car serviced regularly to ensure there are no leaks onto the drive, and if you do spot a leak, clean it up immediately and dispose of all waste or empty containers properly. Many suppliers put bright fluorescent green dye into their products so it’s easy to spot in a puddle on the drive. Most vets stock a UV or black light which makes this dye glow brightly and finding the dye on the cat’s paws or muzzle can be a good way to confirm exposure. If your neighbour has a water feature in their garden, it might be wise to confirm that they are not using antifreeze and to inform them of the dangers if they are not already aware. Another recommendation that has been suggested is to put a bitter-tasting substance (Bitrex) in the antifreeze so that any sensible animal or child would spit it out as soon as they tasted it, but not all companies regularly do this. This would also cut down on intentional poisonings. At the very least, all products containing ethylene glycol should be clearly labelled as being fatal to animals.Spread the word – antifreeze kills! Amy Bergs DVM MRCVS - Visit The Cat Doctor website by clicking HERE
Chocolate is a popular treat for humans, but it's also the most common poison to affect dogs: in the UK, there are nearly 2000 cases reported every year.
A small dog can die after eating a single Easter egg. The chemical in chocolate that gives humans a pleasant buzz – theobromine – has a highly toxic effect on dogs, rapidly poisoning the heart and brain.
A small chocolate indulgence that would be an enjoyable treat for a human can kill a dog, and the toxic dose is surprisingly small. Half a small bar of dark chocolate – around 50g (2 ounces) - is enough to end the life of a little terrier weighing 5kg. Milk chocolate is less dangerous, needing twice as much for the same effect. A standard Easter egg may weigh around 200g, which means that half an egg can be enough to kill a small dog.
Small dogs are much more at risk: the toxic effect is dose-dependent, so a 50kg German Shepherd would need to eat ten times as much chocolate as a 5kg terrier to be affected.
There is a misconception about the main source of risk to dogs: while it is not advisable to give morsels of chocolates as treats, it is rare for dogs to be poisoned in this way. Far more commonly, dogs die after stealing chocolate. Dogs love eating chocolate and they don't have an "off switch" when they are full. They just keep eating until the chocolate is finished.
Two years ago, my own dog Kiko managed to steal an unopened box of chocolates from the kitchen table when she was alone in the room. I had to give her emergency treatment to empty her stomach.[caption id="attachment_3341" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My own dog broke into this chocolate box, eating half a trayful of tasty but dangerous chocolates"][/caption] I was fortunate that as a vet, I had the drugs available to cause her to vomit, but what should an owner do in a similar situation?
You need to act quickly. If the chocolate is removed from the stomach within an hour, there's a good chance that this will be soon enough to prevent serious ill effects of poisoning.
Work out exactly how much chocolate, and what type of chocolate, your dog has eaten, in grams. Write this down.
Weigh your dog, and write this down too.
Phone your vet and explain what has happened. If it is after-hours, then call the emergency vet. It's an urgent crisis and there is no time to waste.
The vet should be able to advise you whether or not you need to take action: this will be calculated from the quantity and type of chocolate and the size of the dog. If there is a risk, the vet may tell you how to attempt to make the dog vomit at home (this is not always possible) or may recommend that you rush the animal in to see the vet at once (the vet can give an injection that immediate induces vomiting).
The most important message is "DO NOT DELAY". Once the chocolate has been absorbed into the
dog’s bloodstream, there’s sometimes little that can be done to help. The signs of poisoning start within six hours of the chocolate being eaten, reaching a peak at around twelve hours. Classic signs include restlessness, vomiting and diarrhoea, with tremors, convulsions and heart failure following soon after. Even with treatment, some dogs survive but many don’t. I see dogs dying of chocolate poisoning every year.
All of the crises that I’ve seen have involved dogs stealing chocolate that has been left within their reach. This weekend, by all means enjoy your Easter eggs, but whatever you do, please keep them out of the reach of your dogs.[caption id="attachment_3338" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="After her chocolate theft, I had to give my own dog an injection to induce vomiting ( it was a snowy day)"][/caption]