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Cat Antifreeze Poisoning

Veterinarian Reviewed on April 1, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Cat Antifreeze Poisoning

Antifreeze, which is also known as ethylene glycol, is among the most common liquids to poison cats and other household pets. Cases of this toxicity are more apparent in the northern areas of the USA where extremely cold winters are more often experienced. Antifreeze has a very sweet taste, which is why so many cats lap up the liquid whenever they come across some that has been spilled.


Whilst cats are less prone to drinking unknown liquids commonly used outdoors, especially if they are indoor only cats, it is suspected that many cats are poisoned when they lick and wash their feet after they have inadvertently walked through antifreeze that has been spilt inside their owner’s garage, or if they are outside cats, walking through antifreeze that has been spilled elsewhere outside. A teaspoon of the liquid is all that is required to poison a cat.

Stages of Antifreeze Poisoning

There are three main stages of antifreeze poisoning in cats:

Stage One

The first stage of poisoning involves the absorption of the toxic liquid in the body of the cat. This may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. The cat may seem drunk and display any of the common signs related to intoxication, such as stumbling and lack of coordination. Nausea, Cat Vomiting, and frequent urination are also seen during this stage. Some cats experience this phase while sleeping, which makes their owners unaware that such poisoning has occurred. Toward the end of this phase, most of the symptoms have been eliminated and the cat may look as if it has recovered.

Stage Two

The second phase of antifreeze poisoning is almost undetectable in most cases. It typically occurs 12 to 24 hours after the cat has ingested the antifreeze. The heart and breathing rates of the affected cat will increase rapidly. With this being overlooked without close inspection of the cat, most poisoning cases are not noticed until the last stage.

Stage Three

Kidney damage and failure, becomes obvious in the final stage. Symptoms of the damage include Cat Depression, Cat Diarrhea, and vomiting. The stage progresses as the liver converts the harmful substance into even more toxic material, which injures the tissues of the kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs. Once the kidneys stop functioning, toxins accumulate in the cat’s body, making the antifreeze poisoning a life-threatening emergency.

Treatment Options

Successful treatment of antifreeze poisoning in cats comprises eliminating the absorption of the toxic material in the body of the animal. If ingestion of the antifreeze is seen, inducing vomiting immediately will help rid the cat’s body of the harmful substance. Seeking veterinarian assistance as soon as possible is also necessary. The vet can clean out the stomach with charcoal and provide the cat with fluids intravenously. If kidney failure has not occurred, medications can be given to stop the breaking down of the ethylene glycol by the liver.


The prognosis for cats to recover from antifreeze poisoning depends largely on how quickly the diagnosis is actually made. Recovering from kidney failure is difficult, but is improving due to hemodialysis, a medical treatment that aids in kidney function while a cat heals.

Read also: Cat Myxosarcoma
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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