Protect your pet this Christmas by being mindful of the dangers of antifreeze toxicity and taking precautions to keep it out of reach.

When we think of Christmas, we conjure sparkling lights, family gatherings, and perhaps the odd mortifying office disco! The rich warmth of mulled wine and the glorious woody scent of pine. But for our feline family members, a silent threat lurks on the frosty early morning streets, before many of us have yawned, stretched and risen from our beds. 

As winter sets in and we prepare for the inevitable cold snaps, there is a notable uptick in the purchase and usage of ethylene glycol. You are perhaps more likely to recognise this jolly blue chemical by its trade name: antifreeze. A staple of many garage shelves from November onwards, veterinarians have long noted that the incidence of pets presenting with antifreeze toxicity peaks during the holiday season. 

Whilst dogs are certainly not immune, cats are by far at the highest risk of accidental antifreeze ingestion (typically from walking through or lapping up spillages). There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Cats tend to be allowed to free-roam, whereas dogs are typically accompanied by a human caretaker when out and about.
  2. Cats are naturally very active at dawn, as this is prime hunting time! Inquisitive and adventurous felines exploring the neighbourhood early in the morning may encounter antifreeze spillages from those who have recently headed off on their commute.
  3. Cats are fastidious groomers! Renowned hygiene enthusiasts, if your cat accidentally walks through a sticky puddle of antifreeze, they will meticulously clean their paws by licking, ingesting antifreeze in the process.
  4. Due to their relatively smaller size, lower doses of antifreeze will cause toxicity in cats compared to dogs. One teaspoon of undiluted antifreeze can prove fatal for a 3.5kg cat. 

Act Fast

Time is absolutely of the essence when it comes to antifreeze toxicity: a treatment delay of just a few hours can significantly lower the likelihood of a positive outcome for the pet. If left untreated, antifreeze poisoning results in potentially irreversible kidney damage or failure. 

Recognising the symptoms to antifreeze toxicity is the first step to achieving swift intervention, and is a crucial skill for every pet owner. These signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy/sleepiness
  • Wobbliness and poor coordination 

Veterinary treatment should be sought immediately upon noticing any combination of the above signs in dogs or cats that have had the opportunity to encounter antifreeze, eg, free-roaming pets during frosty weather.

Other steps that we all should take over the festive period to help keep our community’s pets safe include: 

  • Storing antifreeze carefully, in sturdy containers with secure lids, out of reach of children and pets.
  • Regularly inspecting vehicles for antifreeze leaks.
  • Select an antifreeze that contains propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Whilst still potentially dangerous if consumed, propylene glycol is a lower toxicity option meaning very small doses are less likely to cause harm.
  • Identify and clean up all antifreeze spills immediately and thoroughly, ideally by using sawdust or cat litter to absorb as much as possible (this should then be disposed of in a secure, lidded bin). Splash any remaining antifreeze with water and washing up liquid and scrub with a nylon bristle brush (whilst wearing gloves), and then rinse copiously with water. 

By incorporating these precautions into our winter routines, we can help ensure that this season remains joyous for both us and our four-legged family members. Even if you don’t currently share your home with a dog or a cat, I urge you to be antifreeze-conscious this Christmas. You might just save a life.


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