At this time of year lots of people are busily gearing up for winter. Part of that process generally includes either changing or adding antifreeze to the car. This substance may seem innocuous because it’s so common, but ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in most antifreeze and some windshield washer fluid, is a deadly poison. According to the Humane Society, tens of thousands of animals die every year due to ethylene glycol poisoning. In fact, they assert that antifreeze is one of the most dangerous household hazards to animals and children that exists.
The reason that ethylene glycol poisoning is so common is twofold. First, dogs, cats, and kids (especially young ones) investigate new things with their mouths. Everyone knows that dogs chew, cats lick, and little kids put everything into their mouths. Second, even though it’s a fatal toxin, antifreeze made with ethylene glycol is sweet and actually tastes good. A tiny amount is extremely poisonous and fatal within hours. The signs of poisoning include excessive thirst and urination, lack of coordination, weakness, nausea, tremors, vomiting, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, convulsions, diarrhea, and paralysis. If you suspect poisoning, you need to take your pet to the veterinarian at once to avoid an extremely swift and painful death.
You can do a number of things to keep your kids and animals safe. The first and most obvious change you can make is to put a different kind of antifreeze in your car. A number of antifreeze products are now formulated with propylene glycol instead of the deadly ethylene glycol. These newer formulations work just as well as the old fashioned version, but aren’t hazardous to humans or animals (and they even taste bad). If you do use ethylene glycol-based products, be sure to keep your pets inside while you change your antifreeze. Don’t spill any on the ground and if you do, clean it up immediately. Don’t dump the old antifreeze into ditches or drains. You should always dispose of used antifreeze properly at a site that takes hazardous waste.