Antifreeze poisoning not uncommon

July 11, 2004|by RYAN C. TUCK


The poodle that died Tuesday is the latest victim of a problem that causes the deaths of about 10,000 cats and dogs each year.

Eric Rosenthal, of Ayoub Lane in the Black Rock Estates neighborhood east of Hagerstown, said his dog, Charlie, ate animal fat that was dipped in antifreeze on June 28.

The American Veterinary Medical Association lists accidental antifreeze poisoning as one of the 10 biggest toxicological problems for dogs and cats.


Because of the abundance of the product in homes, antifreeze poisoning is "not uncommon," said Paul Miller, executive director of the Washington County Humane Society.

Washington County has had incidents of accidental and malicious antifreeze poisoning similar to other parts of the country, Miller said.

Tuesday's death is being investigated, but Miller said investigating antifreeze poisoning is "very difficult."

As little as 1/2 teaspoon can be a lethal dose for small dogs, cats and other animals, Miller said.

Nancy Perry, director of government purposes for the Humane Society of the United States, said this "absurd problem" only can be solved through vigilance.

"Be vigilant with your own motor vehicle; be vigilant in your own neighborhood," Perry said. "It's preventable."

Perry and Miller said antifreeze poisoning is common because of its sweet odor and taste, which is attractive to animals and even humans. Many of the products also are a brilliant green, which also attracts small animals and humans.

Dr. Willie Reed, director of the Diagnostic Animal Lab at Michigan State University, said antifreeze poisoning is especially common during the wintertime.

Water that contains antifreeze does not freeze, he said, which means that thirsty dogs may drink from those puddles.

Reed's lab regularly checks for antifreeze poisoning, and said antifreeze poisoning is very difficult to detect.

AVMA officials said animals will appear drunk as early as 30 minutes after consumption of antifreeze and can die as early as 24 hours after ingesting the toxin.

Ethylene glycol, the toxic substance in commercial antifreeze, is metabolized quickly in small animals to very toxic compounds that may result in liver failure, from which the majority of antifreeze poisoning victims die.

Miller said because death can result so quickly after ingestion, residents immediately should contact a veterinarian, who may run a house lab test to determine if the animal has ingested the toxin.

The Argone National Laboratory at the University of Chicago said the antidote for the poison is grain alcohol. Ethanol or vodka can be used to counter EG toxicity because it will prevent the toxin from binding to the enzymes that may cause liver failure.

Miller said antifreeze poisoning was not investigated as a cause in the deaths of the City Park swans in June because no other birds displayed symptoms of being poisoned.

Animal Health Lab in Frederick, Md., which conducted the necropsy on the swans, said the lab did not check for antifreeze poisoning.

The HSUS, AVMA and other organizations are working to reduce antifreeze poisoning through HR 1563, the Antifreeze Safety Act, co-sponsored by Representatives Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Perry said.

The act, which has been referred to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, would require that engine coolant and antifreeze contain an embittering agent so animals and humans would find the smells less attractive.

Miller said there already are safer antifreeze products on the market. Sierra is less toxic to animals and humans, he said.

However, controlling antifreeze poisoning can be as easy as using common sense, Miller said.

"We as consumers have a choice," he said. "Be a good neighbor; be aware of your animal."

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