Fran from Modesto writes in this week on behalf of her dog Tula, a 4-year-old Schnauzer, and her cat Zaney, also 4 years old. Fran and her husband, Mike, have been the caretakers for their two companions for all of their years and had some concerns about the potential for antifreeze poisoning. Neither Tula or Zaney have come into contact with antifreeze but Mike has noticed antifreeze in the gutter near their house and had heard that it can be toxic to dogs and cats. He also had heard there are other choices for antifreeze that are not toxic and wanted to learn more.
I must say I found this letter rather timely as I was out driving an old car of mine over the weekend and my cooling fans decided not to work causing the cooling system contents to become too hot and boil over onto the ground at the gas station.
As fortune would have it, there were several firefighters from the station on Briggsmore at McHenry called out to clean up a spill into the sewer drain. They saw what was happening to the car an immediately began to clean up the spill. Within five minutes they had eliminated the entire mess. I was not only very thankful but also impressed that there was genuine concern for a spill containing automotive cooling system contents.
As those firefighters were obviously aware, automotive cooling systems can contain antifreeze solution, which indeed is toxic to our companions, not to mention us as well. Antifreeze is made up of several compounds with the bulk of the more common types being made up of a chemical called ethylene glycol.
This substance is sweet to the taste and will readily be lapped up by unsuspecting dogs and cats. Children also can be at risk for ingestion of antifreeze. Once inside the body, in simple terms, there is a chemical reaction, which causes the formation of crystals in the kidneys.
If enough antifreeze is swallowed, this crystal formation will shut down the kidneys leading to death. If a dog or cat that ingests ethylene glycol is taken to a veterinarian within six to eight hours of ingestion, they can, with treatment, usually be saved. Beyond that length of time, it is unlikely they can recover.
These cases can be a diagnostic challenge for us as veterinarians if no one actually saw the companion ingest the antifreeze. There are blood tests that can help diagnose ethylene glycol toxicity but there is no way to accurately know how long ago it was ingested making prognosis difficult.
It is because of this potential toxicity that it is imperative that those of us who work on our own cars make absolutely sure we dispose of these chemicals properly and clean them up when they are spilled.
Fortunately, there has been available now for the past few years and alternative to ethylene glycol-based antifreeze. It goes by various brand names but all contain an active substance called propylene glycol.
Propylene glycol is far less toxic than ethylene glycol, in fact it is found in many oral preparations taken by people and animals. It has been widely proven equally effective in automotive cooling systems in every way to ethylene glycol and I encourage everyone to use it for this purpose.