Ethylene Glycol Poisoning in Cats
Antifreeze poisoning is usually associated with pets licking antifreeze drips or spills off the ground. For a cat, as little as a teaspoon can prove fatal. The toxic element in antifreeze, ethylene glycol, can be found in other products as well.
What to Watch For
Within the first few hours there may be vomiting and/or drooling, due to irritation of the stomach. There may also be stumbling and depression, resembling drunkenness (ethylene glycol is a type of alcohol). Within 24 to 48 hours, signs of kidney failure will develop, including loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, excessive urination, or no urination at all.
Ingestion (swallowing) of ethylene glycol, usually in the form of antifreeze.
- Call your veterinarian, the nearest animal hospital or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680
- If you can find the container or label for the ethylene glycol, bring it with you to the veterinarian.
Diagnosis is usually based on history of exposure or suspected exposure to antifreeze or other ethylene glycol containing substance. Urine testing may be utilized to identify a particular type of crystal, as well as to evaluate kidney function. Blood tests will also be done to evaluate kidney function. There is a specific blood test for ethylene glycol, but the time it takes to get results may make it impractical.
Treatment will focus on preventing kidney damage. For instance, after the cat is finished vomiting, activated charcoal is given orally to prevent further absorption of the toxin from the stomach and intestines. Then an intravenous catheter (IV line) will be placed to give the cat ethanol, or a specific antidote called 4-methylpyrazole (4-MP). Kidney function and urine output are also closely monitored for a few days.
Ethylene glycol can be found in some cleaning products and some cosmetics, as well as in some other car fluids like brake fluid. When you have pets and small children it is always wise to know what the ingredients are in all the many products in your home. Most poisonous substances are labeled, but not all.
Living and Management
If treatment begins immediately after exposure, there is a reasonable chance your cat will recover. However, the more time that passes before treatment starts, the less likely it is your cat will escape permanent kidney damage or complete kidney failure.
While cats with damaged kidneys can live for some time with dedicated home care, those suffering from complete kidney failure will require a kidney transplant.
The best prevention is to keep your cat indoors and keep ethylene glycol containing products out of your home. There are ethylene glycol free alternatives for most products. If you do have ethylene glycol containing products, make sure they are properly stored in closed containers out of the reach of your cat.
Empty containers, dirty rags, etc. should also be disposed of in such a way that your cat cannot get to them. Any spills or drips that are found should be cleaned up immediately. Repair any leaks in your car.