Now that the cold weather is upon us and we'll be topping up the antifreeze on our cars and vans, please be aware of the dangers and affects of antifreeze on our dogs and cats and small animals.

Antifreeze poisoning is one of the most common forms of poisoning in small animals, and this is because it is so commonly found in our homes. Antifreeze poisoning typically happens when antifreeze drips from a car’s radiator. It is then licked off the ground and ingested by a pet. Your dog or cat may also come into contact with antifreeze that has been added to a toilet. This can also occur in homes where the residents will use antifreeze during the cold months on their household pipes. 

It is the toxin ethylene glycol that makes antifreeze lethal. Because of this, dogs and cats will consume large quantities of ethylene glycol before being repulsed by its aftertaste and they are attracted by its sweet smell and initial taste. By then, it is too late. It does not take a significant amount of ethylene glycol to cause fatal damage to the system; only a small amount of antifreeze is sufficient to poison a medium-sized dog. Antifreeze poisoning affects the liver, brain and kidneys.

Ethylene glycol is also found in engine coolant and hydraulic brake fluids.


Some common signs of antifreeze poisoning in dogs and cats include:

  • Drunken behavior
  • Nausea/Vomiting 
  • Delirium/Euphoria 
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated movement
  • Weakness
  • Excessive urination
  • Depression 
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Seizures/Convulsions/Shaking tremors 
  • Fainting
  • Coma


Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam on your pet, taking into account the background of symptoms. A complete blood profile will be carried out, including a chemical blood profile and a urinalysis. Your vet will want to test the vomit or stool, if possible, as it may assist your vet in diagnosing the type of poisoning which will result in a prompt action for your dog or cats treatment. The treatment will also be based on the medical history given by you, so you will need to be as detailed and accurate as possible.


For immediate first aid, and if you are positive that your dog or cat has ingested antifreeze, seek immediate veterinary advice, your vet may advise you to attempt to induce vomiting in your pet prior to taking them to the surgery. They will be able to give you necessary information and possible life saving advice before taking them and your vet will be aware of the emergency prior to your arrival. 

DO NOT attempt to induce vomiting if your pet is having trouble breathing, or is showing signs of serious distress or shock or has become unconscious. Whether your pet vomits or not, whilst in your care, you must rush it to a vet immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to safely administer antidotes to the poison and given the relevant treatment to his/her symptoms. Your dog or cat may need to be held in intensive care to prevent kidney failure.

Dogs and Cats that have consumed antifreeze in very small quantity may survive, but will possibly develop kidney failure within days of ingestion. Unfortunately, death due to kidney damage is common among animals that have been poisoned by antifreeze.


Antifreeze poisoning can be easily avoided by following a few simple precautions:

  1. Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored out of the reach of pets.
  2. Take care not to spill antifreeze, and if it is spilled, ensure that it is immediately and thoroughly cleaned up.
  3. Dispose of used antifreeze containers properly.
  4. Check the radiator of your car regularly, and repair any leaks. 
  5. Do not allow your dog to wander unattended where there is access to antifreeze (e.g., roads, gutters, garages, and driveways)
  6. Wash the paws of your dog after walking them, especially if you have walked them on the roads near your home.