One winter we had an incident that all dog owners should know about. One snowy morning after the garbage truck had been by our house, our dogs were outside. Emme and her Aussie buddy Alfie were licking the snow and we happened to notice. We went over to investigate and saw they were licking at a blueish-green stain, probably left by the garbage truck. This immediately triggered all of our alarms. If it was antifreeze, it would soon be deadly for the dogs in a horrendous way.
What is Antifreeze?
Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is lethal to animals. The problem is that it has a sweet taste which attracts animals to lick it. Engine coolant and hydraulic brake fluids have ethylene glycol. A leak from any of those places in a vehicle should be a red alert if pets are around. As little as one tablespoon can cause acute kidney failure in dogs by crystallizing. Once that happens, the damage cannot be repaired. It is a cruel and painful death.
Dogs caught immediately in the act of licking antifreeze have the best chance of survival because the vet will know what he is treating, and medical attention can be administered without delay. Getting treatment in the first few hours is critical as the crystals don’t begin to form immediately.
The Cure if In Time
The vet may do a stomach pump, where water is pumped into the stomach and then drained out to wash out the toxins. There is also a specific antidote for antifreeze poisoning, a synthetic alcohol called Fomepizole that is given intravenously through a tap in the dog’s leg.
We kicked into action within minutes of our dogs licking the snow. We scooped some of the blue snow into a plastic bag, threw the dogs into the car and drove at high speed right to the vet. He seemed unconcerned and even said, “Oh they probably didn’t lick enough if it was mixed in the snow.”
That did not sit well. “How do you know how much they ingested?”
Vet: “Well I guess I don’t.”
Us: “Then how can you possibly know if it wasn’t enough to kill them?”
The vet quickly sensed we were “weapons hot” and called over to the emergency room to prepare for the dogs. The bag with the blue contents were validated as antifreeze by the gas station next door.
We brought the dogs home, each with an IV tap in a leg and a bag connected to it with Fomepizole. After a few days, the dogs showed no distress, the ports came out and we dodged the bullet.
An estimated 90,000 dogs per year in the U.S. are poisoned by licking antifreeze. It can be on a driveway, on a road or even a dirt road leading to a hike trailhead. Look for it.