Let's face it, most pets dislike the cold weather. Whether it's freezing, windy or wet, it's not a pleasant experience for pets or their owners!
However, severe cold weather adds another problem that many owners simply do not think about - antifreeze. It's important for many motorists heading to work and additionally for gardeners who wish to keep fountains frost free. What they may be unaware of is that chemicals in antifreeze can prove lethal to pets.
Firstly, antifreeze is typically 95 per cent ethylene glycol (EG) and diluted 1:2 or 1:3 with water when added to the car's radiator or washer fluid container. The real problem relates to taste. Antifreeze, as well as car screen wash and brake fluid, are all very sweet tasting, meaning cats and dogs tend to lick it readily. If you consider the number of motorists who will use such a product in winter, leading to run off into puddles, then you can see why it becomes a problem.
Even a relatively small amount can prove lethal, one teaspoon (1.4ml) is enough to kill a cat and one tablespoon (4.4ml) for an average 25kg dog.
It also acts very fast, in many cases your pet can die within 24 hours and if you are not treating it within a few hours of ingestion, there is a serious chance of permanent kidney damage, usually fatal.
Animal charity, Cat Protection reported 1,197 cases of anti-freeze poisoning between November 2012 and December 2014, an average of 50 deaths per month.
So what do you need to know?
The main signs to look out for within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion:
• May drool saliva and look depressed initially and possibly vomiting
• They may then appear to recover, but a day later are unwilling to eat (kidneys now have physical crystal damage)
• Any evidence of green fluid (a fluorescent dye is usually added) around the muzzle/paws/base of tail (use a black light if you have one)
• Seeming wobbly, uncoordinated gait or seeming 'drunk'
• Head tremors, increased urination and thirst (kidney damage)
If you suspect a poisoning, see your vet immediately.
These tragedies can only be avoided by people being more cautious day-to-day, but there of course things companies and politicians can do. For example, Switzerland banned ethylene glycol based coolants in supermarkets and general shops for the public in 1972. Instead, Propylene Glycol is used instead which is far less lethal to pets.
In the UK, there is an online petition to add a bittering agent (commonly known as Bitrex or Aversion) to ethylene glycol anti-freeze products to make it unpalatable to pets and humans, as well as adding a clear warning on the external packaging.
I'd urge people to be mindful when using and storing these products and in future think long term to what they can do to help all pets!