PVM Small Animal Internal Medicine Specialist Warns Pet Owners about the Severity of Antifreeze Poisoning

November 10, 2017

Gunner, a young German Shepherd mix, got into ethylene glycol one night, but his owners recognized the clinical signs early enough and brought him to the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where he underwent a single dialysis treatment the same night to clean his blood of the toxin.
Gunner, a young German Shepherd mix, got into ethylene glycol one night, but his owners recognized the clinical signs early enough and brought him to the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where he underwent a single dialysis treatment the same night to clean his blood of the toxin.

 

As temperatures outside get cooler, Dr. Sarah Steinbach, Purdue Veterinary Medicine assistant professor of small animal internal medicine, reminds pet owners to beware of a poisonous substance most households have right in the garage. Ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, is a brightly colored, sweet tasting liquid that is deadly to pets and humans if ingested. A recent Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital case illustrates the threat and the potential for a successful recovery if appropriate treatment is administered in time.

"As it gets colder and colder, we will see more and more cases of ethylene glycol poisoning, unfortunately," Dr. Steinbach says. "Pets who have ingested the liquid may present as if they were intoxicated because ethylene glycol is an alcohol."

Dr. Steinbach says that pets can be either hyperactive or lethargic, nauseous and wobbly after ingesting the toxic chemical. If owners notice these signs or symptoms, the pet should be rushed to the nearest veterinarian. Pets that are seen soon enough can be saved.

"Ethylene glycol itself is not toxic, but when it is metabolized in the body, it becomes severely toxic to the kidneys," she says. "It causes some of the most severe kidney damage that we see." Toxic levels usually peak within three hours after ingestion. Manifestation of kidney failure may only be evident after about a day in cats, and two to three days in dogs. Early intervention is key in saving these animals, according to Dr. Steinbach.

The most efficient way of treating ethylene glycol intoxication in dogs and cats is to remove the toxin directly from the animals' body with hemodialysis.

"We recently saw Gunner, a young German Shepherd mix. Curious as he was, he got into ethylene glycol one night. Luckily his owners recognized the clinical signs early enough and brought him to Purdue," Dr.Steinbach says. He underwent a single dialysis treatment the same night to clean his blood of the toxin. The next afternoon he was able to go home.

"Some poison hotlines, and also some veterinarians, may not think of dialysis as an option or don't know that it is available, but we do have it available here at Purdue," Dr. Steinbach says. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Animal Emergency Service is available 24/7.

Dr. Steinbach's best recommendation for avoiding antifreeze poisoning is to simply avoid having it around. "Don't keep it around unless you absolutely have to, "Dr. Steinbach says. "It does the same thing to humans that it does to dogs. It is sweet. It is a funny color. Kids can be drawn to it and ingest it before you know what happened. There are other antifreeze options that do not contain ethylene glycol. If you need to use it or have it around, make sure it is appropriately stored where no pets or children have access to it."

To read more, click here to view a complete news release.

Writer: Kevin Doerr, pvmnews@purdue.edu


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