cat playing in the snow

Antifreeze poisoning in cats: protecting your cat against a dangerous substance

As the frosts begin to settle over our pavements and cars, we use many tools and chemicals to get rid of it. One of those chemicals is antifreeze – a product you should use with care if you have a pet, especially if your pet is a cat.

Let’s take a look at why antifreeze is dangerous to cats, how to keep them safe from antifreeze poisoning and what to do in the event of an emergency.

Why on Earth would my cat drink antifreeze?

It’s delicious. Antifreeze is made up of a chemical called ethylene glycol, which has a very sweet taste. Dogs find it delicious too, and although cats do not taste sweetness in the same way, antifreeze has the same effect on them. It’s usually hard for owners to get cats to take medication orally because they’re so fastidious with what they eat and drink; it’s unusual for a cat to eat foreign material, unlike dogs, but when it comes to antifreeze, they will drink it when given the opportunity.

If your cat encounters a spillage, if they find the bottle and the cap hasn’t been screwed on properly or if antifreeze gets on their fur, they will not hesitate to treat themselves to this deadly substance.

The science: why is antifreeze poisonous to cats?

When ethylene glycol enters a cat’s liver and is broken down, it releases a number of harmful chemicals. These make quick work of shutting down the kidneys, which in most cases is fatal.

Even the smallest amount of ethylene glycol can harm your cat, so it’s very important that you take care when using this product.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Appearing uncoordinated, almost drunk
  • Seizures
  • Drinking and urinating a lot (a sign of kidney damage)

What to do if my cat ingests antifreeze?

Treat this as an emergency. Contact your vet as soon as possible. Treatments will depend on whether or not kidney damage has begun, which itself depends on how soon after the incident you notice that your cat has ingested antifreeze.

If you get to your vet an hour after ingestion, the likely course of action will be to induce vomiting. This is rarely the case, however, because cats are good at hiding their symptoms. In most cases, the vet will take action to prevent ethylene glycol breaking down in your cat’s liver. Ethanol (alcohol) is often used for this – but make sure you leave this for the vet, never administer alcohol yourself as done incorrectly, this can be toxic too!

Prevention tips

As with most facets of responsible pet ownership, prevention is better than cure! The best method of reducing the risk is to keep antifreeze well out of your cat’s way. Make sure the container is securely closed and stored somewhere your cat can’t access.

When you’re de-icing your car, keep an eye out for spillages. If spillages occur, clean them up immediately and make sure your cat is well out of the way. Remember: the smallest amount of ethylene glycol can cause problems, even if your cat gets a tiny amount on their paw and decides to clean it off.

You can also purchase de-icing products that don’t contain ethylene glycol.

Is antifreeze poisonous to dogs too?

Yes. Much of the information above applies to dogs too. Dogs aren’t quite as tempted by antifreeze as cats… but dogs will be dogs after all, so the same rules apply.

Need more advice on the dangers of antifreeze?

If you need further advice, get in touch with your vet – they’ll always be happy to help. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.