The United States has become a wee bit of a safer place for our pets. This past December, the Consumer Specialty Products Association and Humane Society Legislative Fund announced that antifreeze manufacturers throughout the United States have finally agreed to add a bitter flavoring agent to their normally sweet tasting products, rendering them less enticing to pets (and children).
This voluntary measure will include all antifreeze and engine coolant products manufactured for sale in the consumer market within all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A Tragic Toxicity
Antifreeze toxicity is a horrible thing to witness. Ingestion of even a small amount of ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in antifreeze, causes acute kidney failure in dogs and cats along with severe neurological disease. Symptoms often include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, inappetance, weakness, and ultimately coma and/or seizures. Unfortunately, even with aggressive and expensive therapy, most patients suffering from antifreeze toxicity don’t survive. The Humane Society Legislative Fund estimates that at least 10,000 animals are victims of this toxicity every year.
Dogs are attracted to the sweet taste of antifreeze and will readily drink from a puddle that has leaked from a car’s undercarriage or has spilled from a container. Kitties are usually more discriminating when it comes to taste, but one who has stepped in antifreeze is likely to ingest some during the course of grooming. As little as a single teaspoon of the substance is enough to kill a cat.
Vigilance Still Required
The bittering agent most commonly added to antifreeze is denatonium benzoate, a nontoxic substance that is also used as a treatment to help prevent people from biting their nails. It is imperative to remember that bittering the taste of antifreeze does not render it safe for pets. Because antifreeze toxicity is somewhat dose dependent, the hope is that animals will drink far less of the bitter product resulting in fewer illnesses and fatalities.
Prior to December antifreeze manufacturers within 17 states were already required to add a bittering agent to their products. Oregon was the first state to mandate this change in 1991. California followed suit in 2002. Multiple attempts to make this a federal requirement have been unsuccessful. Thank goodness, antifreeze manufacturers have now voluntarily stepped up to the plate to do the right thing. It’s about time!
Do you regularly check under your car for leaking antifreeze? If you keep antifreeze at home are the containers inaccessible to your pets?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.