Meet Murphy. His family bought him to the vet hospital for help as he had drunk antifreeze from the automotive radiator coolant. This occurs in dogs and cats as they find the flavour sweet and irresistible.
Unfortunately, it is extremely poisonous. Even in small doses it has been known to cause extreme and irreparable damage in dogs and cats. Poisonous metabolites are formed when the body processes the ethylene glycol. These cause severe, acute kidney failure and the secondary development of calcium oxalate crystals.
The stages of ethylene glycol poisoning in pets are:
- Stage 1: This occurs within 30 minutes to 12 hours. It looks similar to alcohol poisoning. Signs include walking drunk, drooling, hyper salivating, vomiting, seizuring, excessive thirst and urination.
- Stage 2: This occurs between 12-24 hours. Signs of drunkenness seem to improve, but an elevated heart rate, increase breathing effort and dehydration often develops.
- Stage 3: In cats, this stage occurs 12-24 hours after getting into antifreeze. In dogs, this stage occurs 36-72 hours after getting into antifreeze. During this stage, severe kidney failure is developing secondary to calcium crystals forming in the kidneys. Severe lethargy, coma, depression, vomiting, seizures, drooling and loss of appetite.
Murphy needed to stay in hospital for a couple of days for treatment. The veterinarians put together a care programme for his stay. Surprisingly, part of the treatment plan included alcohol. This prevented the ethylene glycol from forming oxalate crystals and damaging his kidneys. Murphy was also poked and prodded for frequent blood testing to check his kidney function.
The vets knew Murphy had recovered when the blood tests showed full functionality of his kidneys. The take home message is ‘antifreeze/coolant is irresistible to pets but even in small amounts very poisonous.’ Getting treatment in the first few hours is recommended. The longer it is left the higher risk that crystals begin developing in the kidneys.’