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Vet Tech Files: Anti-freeze the Kidney Killer

Today's post is about anti-freeze a very poisonous chemical that can kill your fury friends. We thought about writing this when we needed to change the fluid in our car's radiator, honestly having to buy and store this chemical gave me the icks. Working in an ER we've seen our fair share of anti-freeze poisoning and honestly the outcome is devastating if not caught fast enough. So let's address why its so dangerous and how to avoid it.

To note not all anti-freeze is deadly to dogs but most is because of the chemical called ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is the component of anti-freeze that lowers the freezing temperature of water, it also has a sweet taste to it which is why dogs want to eat it. This sweet smell and taste will often attract the attention of dogs and it can found when it leaks from your cars radiator, on camp grounds, (its a chemical used on a lot boats and all terrain vehicles), and even in your home (being an ingredient in solar panels, solvents and even wood stains!). The toxic amount for dog ranges from 1-2 tablespoons per 10 lbs.

To understand why it's so dangerous we have to explain what it does once ingested. Once ingested the ethylene glycol is metabolized in your dog's liver within a couple hours, creating a chemical called oxalic acid. The oxalic acid then binds to calcium in your dogs blood stream this combination creates calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals travel down to the kidneys its at this time most dogs start to become symptomatic, once these crystals get to the kidneys this leads to kidney failure or sudden death. Once dogs go into full on kidney failure they are unable to produce urine which leads to a build up of toxins in the blood stream. How this toxicity is treated is categorized in two stages by the veterinary community.

Stage One is the first twelve hours after consumption. During the first stage the initial short term toxicity takes affect (after the 12 hour period the symptoms appear to resolve but the long term affects take hold and do irreparable damage) these symptoms severity depend on the amount ingested. The more ingested the quicker these symptoms appear, this includes vomiting, drunken appearance( known as "drunken sailor" behavior they take to stumbling around), ataxia (lack of coordination), polydipsia (excessive thirst), polyuria (excessive urination), lethargy, lack of appetite, muscle tremors, and hypothermia (low body temperature. In severe cases coma and seizures have occurred during this stage. Most time these symptoms are not severe and don't last for a long time. After the first 12 hours most dog will act normal again and be asymptomatic.

Stage Two is thirty-six to seventy-two hours after consumption. Most often these symptoms present and are more severe they occur as the kidney take damage from the calcium oxalate crystals. These symptoms include tachypnea( rapid breathing), tachycardia ( rapid or high heart rate), inability to urinate, severe lethargy, seizures, vomiting, weakness/collapse, and coma. Once your dog goes into canine kidney failure the damage can be catastrophic.

Treatments for this depend on which stage your dog is in and the amount. The best cases are treated within the first five hours of consumption since the ethylene glycol has not been chemically absorbed yet. If you present within this time frame the vet will induce vomiting to purge the chemical from their body (Please do not induce vomiting yourself! Using hydrogen peroxide or other methods can cause perforation of the esophagus or aspiration during vomiting which can be extremely dangerous) and start administering fluids intravenously to prevent further dehydration and promote any remaining ethylene glycol to be purged from the body through urination. If your dog has trended into the later stages of consumption longer hospitalization will be required to help treat kidney disease/failure. High rates of intravenous fluids to help flush out the toxins and restore functions to the kidneys. Urine output will also be tracked to ensure the kidneys are still able to produce urine. If your dog trends into full on kidney failure and is unable to produce urine the next step would be dialysis. Hemodialysis is a form of blood purification that is used to clear toxins from the blood streams. These treatments are done by universities of veterinary medicine, the process occurs when a special type of intravenous jugular ( the jugular is one of the main veins that runs next to the trachea) catheter is placed for repeat treatments. They will then be hooked up to a dialysis machine that will pump all of their blood through a special filter that removes the toxic waste accumulating throughout the blood stream. The amount of treatments depends on the severity of the kidney failure.

Obviously the best form of treatment is to prevent ingestion of this chemical. First off if you have to use or have this chemical in your household make sure all bottles are closed tightly and secured in a place your dog cannot get to. If you need to use this chemical make sure to do your best not to spill any and if you do then clean up the area right after and wash your hands (or even better wear gloves). Make sure to dispose of containers used in this process properly to make sure no other dogs are affected by this! You can also opt to purchase anti-freeze that contains propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol. Make sure when out on campgrounds or out in the world watch your pooch and make sure they aren't ingesting anything they aren't supposed to. If you think your pet possibly ingested ant-freeze get to your vet as soon as possible and call ASPCA Pet Poison Control Hotline. Below are some links to check out for even more information on this topic. Stay safe out there!


-Jordyn, Ann, and Land of Misfits



Sites to Visit:

-Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs by Canna-Pet

-Hemodialysis by Purdue University

-Animal Poison Control

-Ethylene Glycol Poisoning by VCA Animal Hospitals

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