Antifreeze and Engine Coolant Poisoning

Antifreeze and engine coolant are poisonous to humans and animals. Unfortunately, the substance is reported to have a sweet taste that attracts both children and animals. Once inside the body, the toxic principle is metabolized into a chemical that destroys the kidneys. I remember seeing the kidneys of a dog who lapped a little spilled antifreeze while out walking with his owner. The kidneys looked horrible, with crystals embedded in the tissue. Besides motor vehicles, many dogs are exposed when they drink from toilets of winterized cabins.  These toxicities are tough to treat because they often ingest a large volume of antifreeze.  If the ingestion is caught early, an antidote can be given. Once the crystals form, dialysis and kidney replacement are the only options left.
In 2009, a bill requiring manufacturers to add the bittering agent, denatonium benzoate, was introduced into congress. It was titled, ‘To amend the Federal Hazardous Substances Act to require engine coolant and antifreeze to contain a bittering agent so as to render it unpalatable.’ Even though it had bipartisan support, the bill was never enacted.( Thankfully, the manufacturers voluntarily agreed to add a bittering agent in 2012.  Thank you manufacturers! 

To help prevent further animal and human ingestion, please make sure the antifreeze and engine coolant used in your car or cabin contains a bittering agent to make it less appealing. In addition, purchase antifreeze that replaces ethylene glycol with propylene glycol which is a little less toxic. Store all chemicals in a safe, locked location to prevent accidental exposure. Clean up all antifreeze and engine coolant spills immediately. Last, watch your children and pets carefully to prevent exposure. Wipe your dog’s feet off after walking. More information is available at:

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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