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Ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in almost all major antifreeze brands, has an inviting aroma, a sweet flavor. Its appealing smell and taste often tempt animals and children to drink the highly poisonous substance.
In December 2012, manufacturers voluntarily agreed to add a bittering agent to antifreeze, but pet owners should still take precautions. It's always important to keep antifreeze out of the reach of animals and know the signs of antifreeze poisoning.
It only takes a few tablespoons of highly toxic antifreeze to seriously jeopardize an animal's life. Pet guardians need to know how to help keep antifreeze away from animals, as well as detect the early symptoms of antifreeze poisoning.
Although it's safer than ethylene glycol antifreeze, propylene glycol antifreeze is still toxic.
To lower the risk to animals, consumers can switch to a brand of antifreeze containing propylene glycol, a chemical ingredient that is less toxic than ethylene glycol. In addition to being safer, propylene glycol has a bitter taste that makes it less attractive to curious animals. Although it's safer than ethylene glycol antifreeze, propylene glycol antifreeze is still toxic. To reduce the risk of poisoning, all brands of antifreeze should be handled carefully and treated as a highly poisonous substance. Ensure that antifreeze is stored well away from animals and children, antifreeze spills are completely cleaned up, and leaks are immediately repaired.
Families can help save their own pet from an encounter with antifreeze by closely watching the animal in areas where antifreeze may be accessible, such as roads, driveways, or garages.
1. Switch to a brand of antifreeze that contains propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.
2. Keep antifreeze sealed and away from animals; clean up spills completely, and fix any leaks immediately.
3. Don't allow your pet to wander unattended near driveways, roads, garages, or other places where she could come into contact with antifreeze.
4. Keep other products that contain ethylene glycol—like paint, cosmetics and novelty snow globes—out of the reach of animals, as well as any product of which you are not certain of the ingredients.
5. Monitor your pet for strange behavior. If you think she may have ingested antifreeze, take her to a veterinarian immediately.
For pets exposed to antifreeze, the first few hours are critical. Animals who receive immediate veterinary care can recover successfully—but the longer they remain untreated, the less likely they are to survive.
Recognizing antifreeze poisoning symptoms is important—many pet guardians may not immediately realize that their pet has been exposed to the toxin until it's too late.
Antifreeze poisoning occurs in two phases. In the first phase, the animal typically appears lethargic, disorientated, uncoordinated and groggy. Symptoms usually appear 30 minutes to one hour after ingestion and can last for several hours.
For pets exposed to antifreeze, the first few hours are critical.
The second phase, which can last up to three days, is characterized by symptoms such as vomiting, oral and gastric ulcers, kidney failure, coma and death.
Thousands of pets have suffered this preventable fate, prompting several states, and the federal government, to consider legislation that could drastically lower the incidence of antifreeze poisonings in both humans and animals.
Six states—Oregon, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, and Maine—have successfully passed legislation requiring that a bittering agent be added to ethylene glycol antifreeze to make it unpalatable for animals and children. After years of legislative debate the manufacturers agreed to work at the state and federal levels to pass mutually-agreed upon language that gets to the goal of better regulation of these dangerous chemicals.
While major advances are being made, a federal antifreeze bittering bill is yet to become law. For now it is up to concerned citizens and animal lovers to keep even the most curious critters out from under antifreeze's bitter-sweet—but deadly—spell.