Thursday, January 5, 2012

Anti-freeze poisoning a problem for pets in winter

Prevention is the key to protecting pets

kitten-and-puppyThe chemical called ethylene glycol is found in many commercial antifreeze preparations for car engines and windscreen washer fluids. This chemical is doubly dangerous to pets: it's highly toxic, and it happens to be sweet-tasting, so that animals enjoy drinking it.

Anti-freeze poisoning is a seasonal problem, seen every winter in all parts of the world where temperatures drop below freezing. .

Dogs can be affected as well, but the problem is more commonly seen in cats, for three reasons. First, their metabolism makes them particularly susceptible to the poison. Second, their small body size means that if they swallow less than a teaspoonful, their lives are in danger. And third, cats are more likely than dogs to be skulking around garages and cars: car engines stay warm for several hours after they've stopped, making them appealing to cats in cold weather.

So what can be done about antifreeze poisoning? The most important message is prevention of the problem in the first place. Antifreeze should be treated like any other serious household poison. It should be kept out of reach of pets, in a locked cupboard. When it's used, all spills should be carefully cleaned up immediately. If a small puddle is left on the ground, it's likely to appeal to any passing cat or dog. And remember, even just a few laps are enough to kill a cat. Empty containers should be put into a bin that's not accessible to pets.

If car radiators are drained, you need to remember to dispose of the liquid safely. Radiator fluid may look like a harmless watery type of liquid, but if it contains antifreeze, it's as dangerous as a toxic weedkiller or pesticide.

Even if you don't have pets yourself, you should dispose of antifreeze carefully. If your neighbor's cat strolls by, it would only need to pause for a few seconds to lap at an antifreeze puddle in your front yard to be lethally poisoned.

In many confirmed instances of antifreeze poisoning, owners have no idea where their pet could have contacted the substance. It's presumed that other people in the neighborhood have been responsible. It's nearly always an accident, but there are occasional reports of deliberately poisoning of cats, a crime which is unforgivable. When you witness cats suffering painful deaths, and the accompanying emotional distress of their owners, it's difficult to understand how anyone could choose to bring this about.

Anti-freeze poisoning can be difficult to diagnose if a cat is not seen drinking the liquid. The initial signs are vague and non-specific: there are hundreds of possible reasons for pets being dull and listless. It's only as the poison advances through the system, and blood tests show the presence of kidney failure, that the diagnosis becomes clearer. Even then, it's often only on detailed postmortem examination that anti-freeze is confirmed as the definite cause.

Antifreeze kills cats and dogs every winter: make sure that your pet, or your neighbor's, is not one of them.


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