The Blue Juice: Antifreeze and Dogs


FIDO Blog | Dec 12, 2016

Dear Car Talk Pet Pros,

What do I do if a dog swallows antifreeze? Can I teach a dog to leave this alone while someone is tinkering with cars in the driveway?

--Asking for a friend. Chardon, OH

"Sparky, bring me the 8mm wrench."

Melissa: Ok, so the bad news is if your dog, cat, or gecko has ingested antifreeze, we can’t really help you now since this event happened to your friend long before we got this question, stalled on it for two months and then got around to writing you back.

Dr. Sip:Let the record show that ingesting antifreeze is incredibly serious and going immediately to the nearest open animal hospital is the only recommendation we have once exposure has occurred, even in small amounts.

Melissa: Condolences to your friend, if applicable. And I guess we’re done here.

Dr. Sip: Not so fast! We should also point out that it's not just antifreeze you have to watch out for. The super toxic ingredient in antifreeze is ethylene glycol and you can find it in windshield wiper fluid, too.

Melissa: Ethylene glycol turns into crystals in the kidneys, resulting in acute (that means fast, sudden, and “bam!”) kidney failure and sometimes even death. In fact, as little as a tablespoon can be deadly. To make matters worse, antifreeze also tastes sweet to dogs. (And cats, foxes, mice, raccoons, and other woodland critters.)

You can bet Snow White keeps her antifreeze stored safely away where these guys can't get into it. (She's kind of a neat freak anyway.)

Dr. Sip: We recommended the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (you can get their app here.) I really like how useful it can be to people who have questions regarding emergency situations, access to the poison control phone line, and identification of potentially poisonous substances.

Melissa: The app is not a replacement for medical care but it does give peace of mind, and can tell you which substances warrant breaking the law running through red lights to get to the nearest animal care facility.

Dr. Sip: It's not perfect--for example, when I searched for antifreeze, it turned up nothing, but if you know the chemical compounds in antifreeze, you’ll see that every ingredient comes up as “extremely dangerous.”

The app can help you make an informed decision about whether it's worth risking a trip to traffic court. Mittens the cat drank a some antifreeze? Run, don't walk, to the nearest veterinary ER. Francis the Hedgehog taste-tested your aloe plant? You can follow up with your vet during business hours. 

Melissa: The app can connect you to the Poison Control Hotline with just the touch of a button. The call costs around $65 at the time of this writing, but this can really save you heartache later. These are real animal doctors answering the phones to help you help your pet in an emergency.

Dr. Sip: Right. The phone number is the same one we vets call, only you’ll save valuable time by getting things started, then we can jump on the phone with the hotline when you arrive at the hospital. This is a fantastic resource that I think every pet owner should have downloaded on their phones, just in case.

Melissa: Pro-tip: Some microchip companies offer free calls to the Poison Control Hotline as part of your membership fee. HomeAgain (the microchip our dog Captain Love came with) has a $19.99 annual fee, and it includes calls to the Poison Control Hotline in case he eats … well, everything, because he’s just that kind of dog.

Dr. Sip: Make sure that your antifreeze containers are locked away in a metal storage unit to prevent mice from chewing through containers, killing the mice and spilling antifreeze into open spaces. Additionally, preventing small children from accessing this funky blue liquid is advised.

Really, kids of all ages should stay away from the blue stuff. It’s sweet and not good for you. (Matteo Quatrida, Flickr)

Melissa: Management is incredibly important here - you aren’t just securing the antifreeze - you also have to manage your pets. Make sure that all chemicals are put away and cleaned up appropriately. Lastly, if you are tinkering with your car, make sure that pets are not out and about. Too many things could happen, and let's face it – unless you've trained them to recognize the difference between an 8mm and a 5/16 wrench, they're not going to be that much help on the job.

Dr. Sip: Manage your car too. If there is a leak, it should be fixed immediately for the car's sake, as well as the sake of any pets and kids who might be tempted to play in that electric blue puddle.

Melissa: So I think we’re done here. Our standard advice applies here, too.

Dr. Sip: Yup. Management is key, and when in doubt --

Melissa: -- order the large.

Dr. Sip: ...and when in doubt, get thee to a vet.

More about Dr. Sip (who is a practicing vet in Berkeley, CA) and Trainer Melissa (who wrote “Considerations for the City Dog”) and can be found here.

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