Antifreeze is highly toxic to animals, warns PDSA

PDSA is warning motorists to be careful with anti-freeze as they prepare their cars for winter. The vet charity for pets in need warns that the solution is highly toxic to pets.

PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing explains: “Ethylene glycol is the active component in antifreeze, and is extremely poisonous to animals. It can also be found in screenwash, brake and radiator fluids, and if ingested it can cause severe damage to the kidneys and nervous system. Sadly, even in tiny amounts it’s often fatal, unless treatment is given extremely quickly.”

The charity is urging motorists to be careful as they prepare their vehicles for the cold season, and to clean up any spills of these liquids immediately. If possible, buy products based on propylene glycol as this is non toxic.. PDSA vets have also put together advice for pet owners on how to spot the signs, and what to do if you suspect your pet has swallowed a toxic substance.

According to PDSA vets, signs of anti-freeze poisoning in pets can include:

  • Twitchy muscles
  • Twitchy eyes
  • Low energy
  • Vomiting
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Unsteadiness
  • Seizures (fits)
  • Fast, panty breathing

If you spot any of these signs, or you suspect your pet has swallowed antifreeze, contact your vet immediately. Don’t wait for symptoms to develop – the quicker they get help, the better their chance of survival.

PDSA treated more than 40 cases of anti-freeze poisoning in 2022 and cats are particularly susceptible to this, warns Nina: “Cats are often outdoors unsupervised, unlike dogs. So although the fluid is equally toxic to both species, anti-freeze toxicity is more frequently seen in cats as owners don’t see them drink it. Sadly, by the time there are any symptoms to see, it can often be too late.”

According to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service, who provide advice for the vet profession on treating cases of poisoning, over a fifth* of anti-freeze toxicity cases reported annually occur in December and January.

Pets suffering from anti-freeze toxicity will require intensive care. They may need to have their stomach emptied, and may be given fluids and medications to try and stop the effects of the toxin, and flush it from their blood stream. The pet’s fur may also need to be washed, to prevent them from swallowing more. Even if pets survive, they often have permanent damage to their kidneys.

Nina adds: “Prevention is always better than cure, so be very vigilant in the cold months – keep a close eye on dogs and avoid letting them roam near parked cars. Keep an eye out for spillages and clear up any you find.”

Every day across its 48 Pet Hospitals, PDSA protects the special bond between owners and their four-legged friends. The teams provide veterinary care to sick and injured pets whose owners otherwise couldn’t afford to pay the full cost of treatment. The charity has been keeping people and pets together for over a hundred years. Find out more: