Ethylene glycol toxicosis is a type of poisoning that occurs after ingestion of anti-freeze or other fluids containing the ingredient ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol itself is not toxic but it is metabolized in the animal’s body to several extremely toxic chemicals that are responsible for its potentially lethal effects.
Potential sources of ethylene glycol in the environment include anti-freeze (the most common source of ethylene glycol poisoning), air-conditioning coolants, brake fluid, heat exchange fluids from solar collectors, and fluids used in color film processing. Dogs and cats that roam outside unsupervised are more likely to encounter ethylene glycol in anti-freeze which has been disposed of improperly. Ethylene glycol has a sweet taste and both dogs and cats will consume it readily.
Cats are more susceptible to ethylene glycol poisoning than dogs (i.e. smaller amounts are required to cause poisoning).
The minimum lethal dose for dogs averages 5 milliliters per kilogram of body weight. Thus a little more than 3 tablespoons could be lethal for a 22 pound dog.
Ethylene glycol poisoning causes nervous systems signs and severe kidney failure with almost complete cessation of urine output. Ethylene glycol poisoning can be fatal if not treated very soon after ingestion (within 4 to 8 hours).
Unfortunately, many owners do not realize that their pet has consumed ethylene glycol and first become aware of the problem when the pet shows non-specific symptoms of kidney failure (e.g. loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting) 2 to 3 days later. Treatment often is futile after severe kidney failure has developed.
The most common early symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning are nausea, vomiting, increased thirst, lethargy, and incoordination progressing to coma. The animal may act as if it is “drunk.” These signs develop within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion of ethylene glycol depending on the amount ingested.
Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has consumed an ethylene glycol-containing product. Time is crucial. Your veterinarian may recommend that you induce vomiting in your pet by oral administration of hydrogen peroxide before transporting the animal to the hospital.
Definitive treatment should be started as soon as possible after consumption of ethylene glycol (within a few hours). If treated promptly and appropriately, pets that have consumed ethylene glycol will not develop kidney failure and have a good chance of survival.