Winter Car Care Can be Threat to Pets


December 10, 2003

Media Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg                      

(970) 491-6009


FORT COLLINS – Colder outdoor temperatures mean many people are winterizing their cars, which can bring additional health hazards to households and especially to pets. Antifreeze, a liquid combined with water to lower a car’s freezing point, is one of the most serious wintertime threats to pets.

Dogs and cats are attracted to antifreeze because it tastes sweet. However, this product can be toxic even in small doses. Animals come into contact with antifreeze because of spills or by finding and opening the antifreeze container. Cats are more susceptible because they will lick it off of their paws, and much smaller doses can be fatal.

"Antifreeze is the one of the most common poisonings we see in pets, and any contact with the substance can be fatal," said Dr. Tim Hackett, chief of Critical Care at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University. "That is why it is so important for pet owners to understand what they can do to prevent antifreeze poisoning in their own homes."

Antifreeze is most commonly a fluorescent green-colored mixture. It usually contains ethylene glycol, which causes lethal kidney failure. While not lethal when ingested, ethylene glycol becomes toxic as it is broken down by enzymes in the liver.

Common signs that a pet may have ingested antifreeze include having the fluorescent green color on their tongue, snout or paws. Once ingested, the effects are similar to alcohol intoxication and the animal walks in a wobbly, drunken manner. The ethylene glycol in the antifreeze is quickly metabolized by the liver into toxic calcium oxalates that cause circulation problems and irreversible kidney damage.

If a pet may have ingested antifreeze, do not hesitate to take it to an emergency clinic for a blood test. If the test is positive, it typically takes a couple of days of drug and fluid treatment to get the pet’s health back on track. Treatment aims to prevent the metabolic conversion into the toxic compound, and if successful, most of the ethylene glycol is excreted unchanged.

Another suggestion is to switch to non-toxic antifreeze which does not contain ethylene glycol. Hackett said that the best ways to keep pets safe are to cleanup all spills and regularly check for leaks under cars. Also, if changing antifreeze at home, keep it out of reach, discard old antifreeze properly and do not dump it along gutters or in places where a wandering animal might find it.