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Even a Few Licks of Antifreeze Matter!

November 1, 2010

Shaggy white dog, about 20 pounds, with brown ears and long nose


How Can a Perfectly Watched Pet Get Sick in a Day?

Charlie looked like a rag on the animal hospital ceramic tile floor.  He did not look up, nor did he greet Doc Truli with a tail wag, not even the tippy tip.  Charlie could not summon the energy to lift his own head.

“We just found him like that in the front hallway,” said Charlie’s dad.  “I swear he was perfect last night.  We always go out with him on walks, he’s never alone.  Same bag of dog food, no new treats.  We never give him treats made in China.  He’s on a holistic, all-natural diet.  Charlie’s never out of our sight.  I don’t understand how this could be happening!

Doc Truli asked,” Has Charlie been vomiting, had loose stool?”

“He vomited once this morning.  But we figured he was eating grass in the yard.  He does that sometimes,” said Charlie, the shaggy white with brown-eared medium-sized, mixed breed, 4-year-old dog’s dad.

“Charlie’s mucous membranes are tacky and sticky to the touch.  His heart rate is way up over 150 beats per minute when it should be more like, maybe 100 maximum, here in the vet office.  Has he gone out to urinate this morning?” said Doc Truli.

“Honey, did he go out?” Charlie’s dad asked Charlie’s sister – the teenage daughter.

“No, Dad.  Charlie just looked so tired and weak, I didn’t force him,” said Charlie’s human sister.

Doc reached the back of Charlie abdomen with both hands, one hand on each side of his abdomen just in from of the pelvis.  A quick pancaking motion of pressing Charlie’s guts between Doc’s hands confirmed a problem.

“Did Charlie go out last night?”

“Yes, he was normal last night.  He ate dinner, and fell asleep by us in the family room,” said Dad.

“So, Charlie should have about 12 hours’ worth of urine in his bladder.  In that case, I should be able to feel a balloon-like bladder in the back part of his abdomen.  Yet I do not,” said Doc Truli.

Then, the big question:

“Could Charlie have gotten into antifreeze?”

Charlie’s dad thought.  “We watch him really well.  We never take him out without a leash.”

“Dad,” said Charlie’s human sister, “Remember the back of the SUV this morning?  You thought the carpet was damp and we couldn’t figure out why?  We picked up antifreeze at the car store.  Maybe it spilled and Charlie licked some.”

“No, Honey, besides,” Charlie’s Dad turned to face Doc Truli, “Just licking antifreeze wouldn’t make him so sick, would it?  If he did lick it, it was just a tiny amount.”

“Unfortunately,” said Doc,”any little lick of antifreeze can kill the kidneys.  We need to treat Charlie with intensive care now while we run some tests to see what’s really going on.”

“Anything, anything, Doc.  Please save our boy!” said Charlie’s Dad.

What Does AntiFreeze Do to the Body?

Elevated Kidney Values

The little shaggy dog had “kidney values” beyond the reference range of the chemistry machines to measure.  The Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN, pronounced just “B” “U” “N”, not “bun” like in the oven) and Creatinine (pronounced kree-a-ti-neen) were very, very high.  What does this mean?

Blood Urea Nitrogen

Well, BUN is a breakdown end-product of red blood cell turnover.  Every day your body, your cat’s, and your other mammalian pets’ bodies filter and search through the red blood cells for damaged, old, crappy, infected, or otherwise useless cells.  The red cells usually last for about a week or two, depending on the species, and then the body takes those cells out of circulation and breaks them apart.  When the hemoglobin is released, it contains toxic chemicals that have to be packaged and excreted from the body for safety and health.  Bilirubin from the liver and excreted via the colon is an example of a hemoglobin break-down product you need to get rid of or else you’ll get sick.

Nitrogen from blood urea is another waste product.  Plants like Nitrogen.  It is found in crop fertilizers because plants use it to live and grow.  But mammals need to get rid of the excess in feces and urine.

Huge VirtuaVet Aside About Nitrogen and the Environment

That’s where the “water contamination from nitrogen waste” news comes from.  Except, in addition to legal run-off from over-taxed city sewer systems, and intensive farming run-off from overflowing lagoons after a rainstorm, plant agriculture spreads manure and manufactured nitrogen all over the fields on purpose.  Thousands of tons of that nitrogen just runs off the ground into the water supply.

Ever hear of “nitrogen-fixing?”  Meaning plant roots and the jungle plants and native ground covers “fixing ” the nitrogen?  Well, the plants are not out “fixing” numbers on a corporate report with underhanded accounting!  They are absorbing the nitrogen into their fabulous green bodies and keeping the nitrogen in themselves in a healthy way, “fixing” or locking the nitrogen in a healthy place – their bodies!


Creatinine is a chemical breakdown product produced from muscle metabolism.  Even standing still, you use muscles, like the core balance muscles.  There’s a constant flow of creatinine, and too much of it causes symptoms of achiness, weakness, tiredness, vomiting and sometimes diarrhea.  You, your cat, or your dog, just feels sick!  Normally, the kidneys urinate out excess creatinine.  The body can withstand and adapt to mild to moderate elevations in creatinine – and often does.  This adaptation is why a cat can be stable in IRIS Grade 2 Renal (kidney) insufficiency for years and years – the elevations in BUN and creatinine can be tolerated.

However, Charlie got sick all of a sudden in one night.  This variety of peracute (meaning immediate) to acute (meaning a day or so) onset of illness – and especially kidney dysfunction – is immediately incompatible with life.  And it feels awful.  Just sick and pukey and weak and, well, just awful.

What Is Antifreeze?

Standard antifreeze contains ethylene glycol.  It is poisonous to life as we know it. It tastes sweet. The ethylene glycol prevents water from freezing at the normal freezing point, allowing your vehicle’s gas to remain liquid in very cold weather.  The sweet taste makes animals, especially dogs, lap it up right away!

Tru Tip

Q: Why do cats rarely get antifreeze poisoning?

A: Cats do not have “sweet” taste buds.  Therefore, they will only drink ethylene glycol for strange amusement, not the taste.  Most cats are too smart to do this!

Alternative antifreeze contains a less toxic propylene glycol.  It also prevents the freezing.  Propylene glycol is thought to be barely toxic.  It is used as a softening agent in semi-moist pet foods and treats, and added to many cosmetic and cleansing products for humans.

Tru Tip

Q: What’s the deal with Propylene Glycol and Cats?

A: Repeated exposure to propylene glycol is poisonous to cats in a unique way through their little catty liver.  Certain intravenous medications are carried in liquid form with propylene glycol.  Veterinarians know not to give these meds, and certainly not to give them repeatedly to a cat, or liver failure will ensue.

Q: If it’s poisonous to cats, why did I just read “propylene glycol” on a semi-moist cat food label?

A: Good question.  Do you think the label regulators have time to protect our cats when they let corporations sell products that kill our children?  Hmmm……

Basically, What Does Ethylene Glycol Do to My Pet?

This chemical forms acidic crystals in the kidneys that immediately attack the kidneys and shut down kidney function.  There is a prescription medicine to help prevent these crystals.  If you get immediately to your veterinarian, or  pet emergency room, they will administer this medicine.

The symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning = symptoms of sudden renal failure.

Symptoms of AntiFreeze Poisoning

  • excessive thirst and urination
  • incoordination, called ataxia (legs not organized right)
  • weakness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tremors, usually whole body
  • rapid breathing and heart rate
  • diarrhea
  • convulsions and seizures
  • paralysis

Charlie’s bladder was empty because, after placing a urinary catheter to measure is urine output, and pumping him full of intravenous fluids, he still had almost no urine.

No urine in anuric (pronounced an-nyer-ick) renal failure.  If those kidneys don’t come back on line, you’ve got to go for kidney dialysis.

Not enough, or intermittent urine is called oliguric (pronounced ah-li-gyer-ick) renal failure .  The kidneys could be deteriorating to anuric failure, or trying to start back up.  Usually, some intravenous fluids will kick the kidneys into gear.

Charlie’s urine contained a few calcium oxalate crystals.  These are squarish clear to yellow microscopic mineral crystals with X-shaped cross looking 3-D patterns on them.  Calcium Oxalate Crystals are never normal in a dog or cat, and the crystals themselves can block the kidney ducts and tubules causing more damage than the original acid attack from the ethylene glycol.

To get Charlie out of the oliguric renal failure, Doc gave him special medications to drive the kidneys back online.  If a pet is so sick as to need these medications, you should have a serious talk with your veterinarian about prognosis and costs involved in intensive care.

Charlie made it!  (Most pets do not.)  He spent three weeks in the hospital.  He needs special kidney diet food for the rest of his life.  But he survived a few licks of antifreeze due to quick action on his family and the vet’s part.


The Environmental Protection Agency tells us used antifreeze picks up so many heavy metals and industrial strength toxins in use in the car or truck, that most states regulate antifreeze disposal for the safety of life on Earth!

The Arizona Phoenix Examiner reported on death of three pet dogs.  Fabulous article with symptoms, chemical action of the Antifreeze, very detailed.

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