Stray cats and kittens have been known to drink antifreeze, whether intentionally or accidentally, as they wander the neighborhood in search of food. Antifreeze, a common substance used to protect equipment and car engines from freezing temperatures, can be particularly attractive to stray animals thanks to its alluring smell and taste. However, this chemical is extremely harmful to our outdoor furry friends.
So, will stray cats drink antifreeze? Given the opportunity, yes. Cats will sniff, touch, and even lick anything they might find interesting in your driveway or garden. Unfortunately, this curiosity exposes them to the risk of antifreeze poisoning, causing untimely death for these poor animals. This is why some municipalities in the United States have banned the sale of antifreeze products near pet shops and animal shelters, in an attempt to prevent the accidental poisoning of animals.
What is antifreeze?
Antifreeze is a substance commonly used for vehicles, radiators, screen washers, and other home appliances to protect the equipment from freezing. The star ingredient of the product is ethylene glycol, an odorless liquid that is extremely poisonous to both humans and animals.
If you live in an area with harsh winters, then antifreeze products might help you combat the inconveniences of sub-zero temperatures. For example, using antifreeze can protect your vehicle engine from corrosion and rust. The tinted liquid can also prevent the water in your engine from freezing up during the coldest months.
Unfortunately, careless use of ethylene glycol can cause accidental poisoning in animals, especially curious stray cats scrounging for food.
Will stray cats drink antifreeze?
Hungry stray cats, given the chance, will eat or drink any substance they find appetizing. Antifreeze is especially attractive to our feline friends, thanks to its sweet smell and taste.
Stray animals, in general, might drink antifreeze voluntarily if they find it spilled or leaked onto driveways or garage floors, or into ponds or puddles. Sometimes, a curious cat might sniff the toxic liquid, or have some of the substance on its fur and lick it, with harmful consequences.
Can cats lick antifreeze?
There are many possible ways that a cat can be poisoned by antifreeze products. While some cats will need to drink a sufficient amount to experience the dangerous side effects, others might accidentally access the toxic liquid through contamination.
If you want to protect your household cats and other animals from antifreeze poisoning, you need to understand how these poor animals get access to the poison in the first place. Here are some possible scenarios:
1. Spilled antifreeze chemicals
It is very common for people to not clean the area after applying antifreeze to their equipment. Some of the leftover liquid can spill into the driveway or leak into nearby puddles, which could dangerously attract stray animals and even outdoor pets.
2. Improper storage
Cats explore their surroundings using their fur, their tongues, and their noses. They lick, smell, and touch any objects or surfaces they might find interesting. This means that, if you do not store your antifreeze properly after use, a curious cat might easily gain access to the harmful liquid.
3. Accidental ingestion through licking
As mentioned, cats are naturally curious about their environment – it is part of their survival instinct. At some point, they might accidentally ingest a sufficient amount of antifreeze by grooming themselves after coming into contact with this harmful substance. Stray cats, in particular, might walk through the spilled liquid in your driveway and later lick their paws. While it might seem like a very small amount, this too can put the cat at risk of poisoning.
4. Contact with equipment on which antifreeze has been applied
Antifreeze liquids are mostly used on items that are left outdoors, such as cars and lawn equipment. This provides an opportunity for unsuspecting stray cats to access the substance. They might get the antifreeze on their fur and paws as they explore your driveway or garden in search of food, water, or shelter. Cats might also lick the surface of objects with the sweet-smelling toxic liquid on them.
How much antifreeze is poisonous to a stray cat?
A small amount of antifreeze is proven to be lethal for most animals, including cats. In fact, about 1.4 milliliters – or 0.05 fluid ounces or about half a teaspoon – of the liquid is enough to kill a cat. Hence, even a small lick out of curiosity can already endanger the life of a stray cat.
Without immediate treatment, a poisoned cat can suffer irreversible damage to the kidneys and liver within 24 hours. Depending on the amount of substance the cat has ingested, ethylene glycol can wreak havoc on the animal’s internal organs and cause death within a day or two.
Signs of antifreeze poisoning in cats
Depending on the size of the cat and how much antifreeze it has consumed, a few symptoms might become apparent hours after the poisoning. Here are a few tell-tale signs that a cat has been poisoned with antifreeze:
1. Within 12 hours of ingestion
The poisoned cat might show drastic changes in its behavior. You might notice lethargy, disorientation, vomiting, frequent urination, hypothermia, and excessive thirst. In some cases, the cat might also experience episodes of seizures which might eventually lead to a coma.
2. Within 24 hours of ingestion
Some cats might start to appear better after the early symptoms. Their urination becomes less frequent, and their symptoms of poisoning might dramatically reduce. However, the actual damage is far worse at this point as their kidneys begin to fail. Eventually, the poisoned cat will become extremely dehydrated and its respiratory and heart rate will skyrocket as the internal organs begin to shut down.
3. Last stage – within a day or two
Irreversible liver and kidney failure will occur. At this point, the poisoned cat will display symptoms such as lethargy, depression, vomiting, seizures, lack of appetite and, eventually, death.
If you think a stray cat or one of your household cats has been poisoned with antifreeze, it is imperative that you take them to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately. The poison can act extremely quickly, so time is of the essence! The cat should receive treatment within three hours after ingesting the antifreeze; otherwise, the damage might become extensive and the cat will not survive.
How is antifreeze poisoning treated?
The cat’s chances of survival depend on how much antifreeze has been consumed and how fast the antidote is given. Therefore, it is critical to contact a veterinarian right away, as soon as you notice the early symptoms of poisoning.
Veterinarians can diagnose antifreeze poisoning by taking blood and urine samples from the affected animal. If the laboratory results show signs of ethylene glycol poisoning, the vet will remove the toxic substance with charcoal to bind the antifreeze in the stomach and intestines. Medications will also be prescribed to prevent the liver from breaking down the toxin, enabling the substance to be passed through the urine.
Unfortunately, these testing methods might not be available if the poisoning happens in the middle of the night (which is likely, as outdoor cats tend to roam a lot at night). Veterinary hospitals might offer in-house testing kits to confirm ethylene glycol poisoning; the only downside of these kits is that they do not always give accurate results, which can lead to false positives.
If 24 hours have passed after the ingestion, most of the ethylene glycol in the bloodstream might have already disappeared, making detection challenging for the vet. That is why it is critical to have the cat tested as early as possible, before any irreversible organ damage occurs.
Once the treatments have been administered, there is still no guarantee that the cat will not suffer from kidney damage. In most cases, this damage will be irreversible. In case of total kidney failure, dialysis might be the only option available to remove waste products from the cat’s body.
Stray cats naturally explore their environment by smelling, touching, and licking. So, if you leave a harmful substance like antifreeze outside, you are putting these curious animals at risk of poisoning. Applying antifreeze carelessly to car engines and outdoor equipment, or carelessly spilling a few drops of the substance, can also increase the likelihood of accidental poisoning for these poor animals.
Hungry and desperate stray cats might also drink antifreeze for survival. According to a survey, about 50 percent of stray cats might have consumed antifreeze. So, if you notice a cat that has possibly been poisoned by this toxic liquid, the only right thing to do is take it to the vet immediately for proper treatment and to reduce its suffering.
Image: istockphoto.com / Olga Smolina