Antifreeze poisoning in dogs

Is antifreeze dangerous to dogs?

Antifreeze can be extremely dangerous to dogs. It can damage their kidneys and can cause death, even after only a small amount has been licked. Effects from poisoning can sometimes be seen quickly, but it’s often not until two to three days later that signs of kidney failure start to show.

Some types of antifreeze are more dangerous than others. The most toxic kind contains ethylene glycol, but some contain methanol or propylene glycol, which may not be as toxic but can still make your dog unwell.

How are dogs poisoned by antifreeze?

Dogs will most often come across antifreeze after it’s leaked from a car radiator, or been spilt after refilling screen wash. If you notice any liquids by your car, keep your dog away and clean it up immediately. If they’ve walked through any, then wash their paws with soap and water straight away. If you think your dog has licked, drank or been in contact with antifreeze, contact your vet immediately. The quicker your dog is treated the better.

Where do you find ethylene glycol?

The toxic chemical found in antifreeze can be found in a number of places including:

  • Radiator coolants
  • Windscreen de-icers
  • Brake fluids
  • Developing solutions for photography
  • Some paints, solvents and printer inks
  • Rust inhibitors
  • Some antifreeze treatments for ponds
  • Some snow globes

Why is antifreeze toxic to dogs?

Once antifreeze has been consumed, it’s broken down by the body in to highly toxic chemicals. These chemicals bind to calcium in the body and make crystals that form deposits and cause damage to many different parts of the body, including the lungs, brain and most notably, the kidneys.

Do dogs like antifreeze?

Some types of antifreeze smell and tastes sweet, so may be irresistible to some dogs. Drinking even a small amount of antifreeze can be very dangerous to a dog, making this pleasant tasting poison highly dangerous to them. 

How much antifreeze is toxic to dogs?

It only takes a very small amount of antifreeze to harm a dog and not much more to be fatal. If you think your dog has walked in, drunk or licked antifreeze then you should contact your vet immediately. The quicker your dog is treated the better.

What are the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning?

Soon after drinking antifreeze, some dogs may be wobbly on their feet, may dribble or be sick. After around 12 hours, dogs may seem to recover, but from around 2-3 days their kidneys may stop working properly and they may become very tired, be sick, go off their food and they can develop fitting or go in to a coma.

What is the treatment for antifreeze poisoning in dogs?

There are a number of treatments that your vet can use to support your dog, including two antidotes to antifreeze, but ideally these need to be given soon after your dog has drunk the antifreeze. Delayed treatment is often not effective and the prognosis of dogs with kidney failure is sadly poor.

What should I do if my dog drinks antifreeze?

If you think your dog has drunk antifreeze, contact your vet as soon as possible. Do not wait for your dog to become unwell, as delayed treatment may not be as effective. Even if your dog drank antifreeze and seems ok it’s important you contact your vet straight away.

Keeping your dog safe

  • Take care not to spill any liquids when refilling screen wash or using antifreeze on your car.
  • Watch out for any spillages of antifreeze around your car and clean them up as soon as you notice them.
  • Keep all chemicals, including screen wash or antifreeze up high and out of paws reach of your dog.
  • Watch out for puddles of unusual looking fluids when out walking with your dog and keep them away from them.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately.

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.