Ethylene Glycol Poisoning
A 1989 survey done by the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association (BCVMA) showed that 1589 cats and dogs died in this province alone as a result of ethylene glycol antifreeze poisoning. This figure includes diagnosed cases of antifreeze poisoning in domestic animals only and does not include feral cats or wild animals. The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates "that the actual deaths of companion animals and wildlife due to EG poisoning runs into the tens of thousands every year. It makes antifreeze coolant one of the most dangerous household hazards to children and pets, not to mention wildlife".
The active ingredient in antifreeze is Ethylene Glycol (EG), a fatal toxin. Most animals contact the poison due to the ways in which antifreeze is discarded. Animals, attracted by the sweet taste, may drink it directly, or become indirectly poisoned as they wash their soiled paws and fur. As little as two ounces can kill a dog and one teaspoon will kill a cat.
The signs of EG poisoning include excessive thirst and urination, lack of coordination, weakness, nausea, tremors, vomiting, rapid breathing and heart rate, convulsions, diarrhea, and paralysis.
Once EG is inside the body, it is changed into a crystalline acid which attacks the kidneys. Treatment involves intravenous alcohol to prevent EG from being converted to oxalic acid that damages the kidneys.
Pets rarely survive EG poisoning, because symptoms can be subtle and most pet owners don't recognize their pets are seriously ill until it is too late. If you suspect your pet may have ingested antifreeze, TAKE YOUR PET TO YOUR VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. Death ensues within hours. Immediate treatment is essential to prevent a painful death.
Reducing the Risk
To avoid the risk of poisoning animals a few basic safety measures are required:
- When changing antifreeze keep your pets indoors.
- Avoid spilling antifreeze on the ground and don't drain radiators into ditches or storm drains.
- Keep the new antifreeze in its original container.
- To store used antifreeze before disposal, put it into a clearly labelled, sealed container. Recycle or dispose of it at a garage with appropriate facilities for disposing of antifreeze. It can also be disposed of on Household Hazardous Waste Collection Days. For information about collection in B.C. call the tool free number: 1-800-667-4327. In Vancouver call 732-9253.
- Keep antifreeze off the floor and away from pets.
- Wipe up and wash away any spills.
- If your pet returns home covered with an unknown substance, wash it off immediately.
- Winter auto window washing fluids and products to prevent freezing in plumbing can also contain ethylene glycol. Check the ingredients, and if it contains EG, treat it the same as antifreeze.
- There is a safe alternative - switch to non-toxic Propylene Glycol formulated antifreeze.
Safety & Performance
There are no performance differences between PG and EG antifreezes. Propylene Glycol antifreeze has all the desired properties of Ethylene Glycol antifreeze - without the hazards to animals and children. It makes sense to switch.
PG antifreezes available in B.C. are Kooltone Non-Toxic Antifreeze from Vinoco Oil Inc., Delta, B.C. at 604-946-4226 and Sierra at Canadian Tire.
Ethylene Glycol (EG) Facts: A Hazardous Chemical
- The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established an exposure limit of 50 parts per million (ppm).
- EG is now regulated as a hazardous air pollutant.
- EG has a sweet taste that is attractive to animals and children.
- EG is toxic to animals and humans if ingested.
- EG is metabolized into oxalic acid, which crystallizes in the kidneys, causing death.
- The Colorado State University Veterinary Hospital reported that 50% of all poisoning deaths of dogs and cats were linked to EG.
Propylene Glycol (PG) Facts: A Safe Alternative
- OSHA has not found it necessary to set an exposure limit for PG because of PG's inherent low toxicity.
- PG is not considered an air pollutant and is not regulated.
- PG has an acrid (bitter) taste.
- PG has received a "generally recognized as safe" designation from the Food and Drug Administration, and pharmaceutical grade PG has been used safely for many years as an ingredient in foods, cosmetics, and medicinal products.
- PG is metabolized to lactic acid, a normal body constituent.
- PG is used as a moisturizing ingredient in many pet foods to keep the food moist and palatable.
This information has been paraphrased from an article in Paws Magazine, December 1995, a magazine distributed freely by B.C. veterinarians.