Ethylene glycol toxicosis is a type of poisoning that occurs after ingestion of antifreeze or other fluids containing the ingredient ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol itself is not toxic, but it is metabolized in the animal's body to several extremely toxic chemicals that are responsible for its potentially lethal effects.
Potential sources of ethylene glycol in the environment include antifreeze (the most common source of ethylene glycol poisoning), air-conditioning coolants, brake fluid, heat exchange fluids from solar collectors, and fluids used in color film processing.
Ethylene glycol poisoning symptoms in the nervous system and severe kidney failure with almost complete cessation of urine output. Ethylene glycol poisoning can be fatal if not treated soon after ingestion (within 4 to 8 hours).
Cats that roam outside unsupervised are more likely to encounter ethylene glycol in antifreeze which has been disposed of improperly. Ethylene glycol has a sweet taste and cats will consume it readily. Unfortunately, many owners do not realize that their pet has consumed ethylene glycol and don't become aware of the problem until the pet shows non-specific symptoms of kidney failure like loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting two to three days later. Treatment is often futile after severe kidney failure has developed.
Cats are more susceptible to ethylene glycol poisoning than dogs (i.e. smaller amounts are required to cause poisoning). The minimum lethal dose for a cat is 1.5 milliliters of antifreeze per kilogram of body weight. Therefore, a teaspoonful can be lethal for a 7 pound cat.
Definitive treatment should be started as soon as possible after consumption of ethylene glycol (within a few hours). If treated promptly and appropriately, pets that have consumed ethylene glycol will not develop kidney failure and have a good chance of survival.
What to Watch For
These signs develop within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion of ethylene glycol depending on the amount ingested.
Diagnostic test are needed to recognize ethylene glycol toxicosis, including:
Treatment for ethylene glycol toxicosis includes one or more of the following:
Remove your cat from the source of ethylene glycol immediately. Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat to have consumed ethylene glycol. Your veterinarian may recommend you induce vomiting in your pet by oral administration of hydrogen peroxide. Transport your pet to your veterinarian immediately.
Keep containers of antifreeze and air-conditioning coolant tightly closed and out of reach of pets. Clean up spills immediately and thoroughly. Antifreeze spills should be washed away with large amounts of water. Prevent access of pets to areas where ethylene glycol-containing products may be stored or spilled like the garage or driveway.
Use antifreeze products that do not contain ethylene glycol like Prestone LowTox® or Sierra®. Antifreeze products containing propylene glycol cause signs of drunkenness but are not fatal unless very large quantities are consumed, in which case death is the result of alcohol poisoning.
Most important: Do not allow your pet to roam unsupervised. Pets that are allowed to roam unsupervised are more likely to encounter a source of ethylene glycol and consume it. In many instances, owners are not aware their pets have consumed ethylene glycol until it is too late and severe kidney failure has developed.
Ethylene glycol toxicity is a life-threatening condition. The symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning, however, are not specific for this disorder. Other diseases present symptoms similar to those observed in ethylene glycol toxicity. Examples of these diseases include:
Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize ethylene glycol toxicosis. These include:
Therapy is often successful if the pet is seen by the veterinarian within a few hours after ingestion of ethylene glycol and before kidney damage has occurred. Such pets never develop kidney failure and are discharged from the hospital after a few days of treatment and observation. If kidney failure already is present (based on observation of high kidney function test results and lack of urine production) the prognosis for recovery is very poor. Treatment is difficult and hospitalization may extend for weeks. More than 80 percent of pets with severe acute kidney failure due to ethylene glycol poisoning die despite intensive treatment.
Your veterinarian may recommend any of the following treatments for ethylene glycol poisoning: