Antifreeze can be toxic to pets

Fran from Modesto, Calif., writes on behalf of her dog, Tula, a 4-year-old schnauzer, and her cat, Zaney, also 4. Fran and her husband, Mike, have some concerns about the potential for antifreeze poisoning. Neither Tula or Zaney have come into contact with antifreeze, but Mike has noticed antifreeze in the gutter near their house. He also has heard there are other choices for antifreeze that are not toxic and wanted to learn more.

I must say I found this letter rather timely. I was driving an old car over the weekend and the cooling fans decided not to work, causing the cooling system contents to become too hot and boil over onto the ground at the gas station.

As fortune would have it, there were several firefighters from a nearby station who had come to clean up a spill into the sewer drain. They saw what was happening to the car and immediately cleaned up the spill. Within five minutes they had eliminated the entire mess. I was not only very thankful but also impressed that there was genuine concern for a spill containing automotive cooling system contents.

As those firefighters were obviously aware, automotive cooling systems can contain antifreeze solution, which indeed is toxic to our pets, not to mention humans. Antifreeze is made of several compounds, with the bulk of the more common types made of a chemical called ethylene glycol.

This substance is sweet to the taste and will readily be lapped up by unsuspecting dogs and cats. Children also can be at risk for ingestion of antifreeze. Once inside the body, there is a chemical reaction that causes formation of crystals in the kidneys.

If enough antifreeze is swallowed, this crystal formation will shut down the kidneys and lead to death. If a dog or cat that ingests ethylene glycol is taken to a veterinarian within six to eight hours, it can usually be saved.

These cases can be a diagnostic challenge for veterinarians if no one actually saw the pet ingest the antifreeze. There are blood tests that can help diagnose ethylene glycol toxicity but there is no way to accurately know how long ago it was ingested.

Those of us who work on our own cars should make absolutely sure we dispose of these chemicals properly and clean them up if they are spilled.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to ethylene glycol-based antifreeze. It goes by various brand names, but all contain an active substance called propylene glycol.

Propylene glycol is far less toxic than ethylene glycol. In fact, it is found in many oral preparations taken by people and animals. It has been proven equally effective in automotive cooling systems to ethylene glycol.