Antifreeze Toxicity in a Dog: AntiFreeze Isn’t Just A Winter Hazzard

It takes only a tiny amount of antifreeze to kill a dog.

The other problem is that after the first few hours looking really sick, your dog starts to look better. If you have no suspicion of antifreeze poisoning, a day or two later your dog’s kidneys will fail.

Further reading: Antifreeze Poisoning

Thank you, Lenore Holditch, for sharing Chico’s story.

Antifreeze Toxicity in a Dog: AntiFreeze Isn't Just A Winter Hazzard

Chico’s story

When I was 15-years-old my 6 pound Chihuahua, Chico, died in my arms. 

Undergoing extreme pain and with a minuscule chance of survival (even with the very costly surgery that my parents couldn’t afford), I was forced to lay him down via lethal injection to release him from his misery.

Fast forward 10 years later and I still haven’t recovered from the experience—no other dog has managed to evoke any sort of interest for me. And as dramatic as it may sound I probably won’t ever own another dog ever again.

But since then, I’ve been a walking PSA about the way my poor doggie died: acute renal failure

No, he wasn’t old, his small size played no role, and he was exceptionally healthy just 3 short days before his death.

Antifreeze poisoning

His kidney malfunction was actually the result of antifreeze poisoning.

It may seem unlikely that your dog may ever get a hold of antifreeze—after all, it’s probably safe to say that you don’t keep buckets of it lying around. But it’s actually more common than you may think.

In fact, according to statistics more than 90,000 domestic pets die of antifreeze poisoning each year!

Why? Antifreeze is like candy for dogs. Its “sweet” smell and taste can easily seduce domestic pets to giving it a try.

And all it takes is a couple of licks (about two ounces to be exact) for the poison to do its dirty work.

While antifreeze poisoning is about 85 percent lethal once ingested, fortunately, if caught in enough time your pet may survive.

What does antifreeze poisoning in a dog look like?

It is vital to know all of the signs your dog may have antifreeze poisoning and to learn ways that you can prevent this from occurring.

The symptoms of antifreeze poisoning may vary and will be especially dependent on time—the first few hours may be mild and will worsen as time progresses.

Note that if not treated within 72 hours, the damage is typically irreversible.

I personally didn’t notice any symptoms until the 24-hour mark, mostly because I was busy with a school project and wasn’t paying much attention to Chico during the first initial hours (something I terribly regret).

I didn’t notice anything was wrong until feeding time came the very next day. 

He was hiding underneath the couch, something that wasn’t too terribly abnormal because he tended to like to burrow in blankets and dark areas.

But when I poured his breakfast and he didn’t dash from underneath the couch to eat like he was often liked to do, I began to worry.  

I waited a few minutes before deciding to lure him out with a few scraps of deli meat, something he never refused. I tried crawling underneath the couch to waft it under his nose. But Chico rejected it.

I then tried jingling his dog leash—a sound he knew meant it was time for his walk and by far his favorite activity—but still, he would not budge. Late for school, I left Chico underneath the couch hoping that when I returned, his dog bowl would be empty.

But when I came back home, Chico never touched it. He just continued to lie lifelessly underneath the couch. I had no choice but to drag his frail body from his hiding place.

Veterinary visit

It was then I noticed his shortness of breath. I immediately took him to the vet. Almost immediately she diagnosed him with antifreeze poisoning.  

She informed me that symptoms are more prominent with other dogs, but usually include the following:

Within the first 12 hours:

  • Mild Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Extreme Thirst
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Stumbling
  • Mild Seizures

Within 24 hours:

  • In addition to intensive variations of all of the symptoms mentioned above, your dog may also suffer from
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Panting/Wheezing
  • Frequent Urination

Within 72 hours:

  • Inability to Walk/Decreased Motor Function
  • Intense Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
  • Refusal to Eat
  • Dehydration

If your dog is suffering from any of the symptoms listed above take your pet to the vet immediately.

Depending on your pet’s condition and which stage it is in will determine which treatment procedures your vet will pursue.

Seek veterinary help

If caught early on, typically veterinarians will administer medication to encourage vomiting and get the antifreeze out of your pet’s system.

Other methods include the administration of charcoal and fomepizole—two medications that slow down the spreading of the antifreeze from seeping through the rest of the body and the kidney.

I waited too long to take Chico to the vet and unfortunately purging his stomach of the poison was not an option. 

The only option left was a risky and highly expensive kidney transplant. Because we did not have the funds and because Chico was suffering, we then decided to lay him to sleep.

Keep antifreeze and dogs apart

The only sure fire way to save your pet’s life, however, is to prevent it from happening altogether.

*Note that if your pet is an “outside dog,” pay even more special attention. I am more than positive that Chico got a hold of antifreeze the day my parents accidentally let him run loose in the neighborhood.  Do not let your dog roam. With that said, here are some things you can do to prevent antifreeze poisoning:

  • Do not keep antifreeze in a low area where your dog can easily reach it. Always make sure it’s properly sealed and stored in a cabinet/high area
  • Inspect your vehicle(s) and ensure that it does not leak antifreeze
  • Monitor garages and driveways frequently; if there is a suspicious spill, clean it up immediately
  • Do not permit your dog to drink from puddles
  • Lastly, do not allow your dog to drink from water features in people’s gardens, especially during the winter months—some people like to add ethylene glycol (the toxic agent in antifreeze) to prevent their gardens from frostbite.

Related articles:
Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs: What Happens in the Dog’s Body with Antifreeze Poisoning?

Further reading:
Ethylene Glycol Poisoning

Categories: ConditionsDog toxins

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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