PET HEALTH CORNER: Dangers of Antifreeze

by | General Pet Care |

During the winter, a serious danger to pets is antifreeze, which acts like a poison if ingested by animals. Dave Wilson, Director of Shelter Health and Wellness at the Ontario SPCA, and retired vet, discusses with us what the dangers are and how to prevent them.

What is antifreeze and where is it found?


Antifreeze is a chemical that can be found in standard vehicles like cars and trucks, but also in tractors or other machinery.

“It’s designed to work in the engine as one of the fluid components,” Wilson says.

Typically, he says people change their antifreeze routinely, or they top it up. The danger, Wilson says is if the substance is spilled while being changed.

“The chemical in the antifreeze tastes sweet, and animals then are drawn to it,” he says.

There are a number of ways the poison can get into the animal’s system, Wilson says, including if they lick it, or walk on it and lick themselves. Because of the sweetness he says the animal won’t know to stop and may lick or even drink it.

Wilson says the chemicals in the antifreeze go to the pet’s kidneys and acts like tiny microscopic razor blades that slice up the kidney cells.

“It causes permanent kidney damage,” he says.

Pet-Friendly Alternatives

Wilson says there are pet-friendly antifreezes that exist. Normal antifreeze has ethylene glycol, and  the pet friendly alternative uses propylene glycol. 

“It is still poisonous, but it isn’t as harmful as the original ethylene,” he says.

Regardless of the type, Wilson says if you think your pet has ingested any antifreeze they should be taken to a vet immediately.


antifreeze, cat, car,
Public Domain

If you’re going to be topping up your radiator or changing your antifreeze, Wilson says to make sure your pets are far away.

“You don’t want your dog around you when you’re doing that, you want them to be somewhere else,” he says.

Before the dog or the cat is allowed back into that area, Wilson says it’s important to have a good look under the vehicle to make sure nothing has spilled.

If there is spilling, he says to clean it up carefully with detergent to rinse it and wash it away. If the spill is on gravel, Wilson says the best option is to scoop and throw away the gravel, then pour water and detergent on the dirt left behind.

After using the detergent water, Wilson says to then wipe it and dry it up, doing your best to ensure there’s no residue left behind.

“It doesn’t have to be anything special actually,” he says.

Again, if your pet has been exposed to antifreeze, bring them to a veterinarian immediately.

Check out some more of our Pet Health Corner blogs:

PET HEALTH CORNER: Identifying Hypothermia

PET HEALTH CORNER: Dog breeds who need winter protection


We have supported the OSPCA since 1951

We have supported OSPCA since our arrival in Canada in 1951.  Keep up the greatest  T.L.C. for animals.

-Paul & Des